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Daly Conservation :: Ossabaw Island

Ossabaw Island

The CW contingent

Ossabaw Main House

ABOVE: The Main house on Ossabaw Island, a 1928 Spanish Revival house.

We had a visit from Patty Silence and Matt Webster from Colonial Williamsburg.  They arrived on Friday and stayed Saturday and Sunday, returning on Monday with me, dropping me off at the airport in Savannah.

It was really great to have them there, they both have a wealth of knowledge and practical experience that was invaluable to the project.  They met with representatives from the Ossabaw Island Foundation today.

Matt gave a tour and description of the Tabby houses.  He did a bit of forensic archaeology, showing us parts of the houses that were original and pieces that were added later.  There have been numerous repairs to the materials and he encouraged the foundation representatives to do future repairs with materials on site, using oyster shells and calcining the shells in a lime rick to create quicklime for more  tabby material.  He pointed out that this would save them from buying quicklime which is expensive, and it would be a great context and educational tool for the site.
Matt Webster at the Tabby House
The CW contingent were all really great at talking about context and this is something I personally found really interesting.  I have most often worked in museums where the context is usually painted on the walls or installed into the spaces, but to talk about your reenactor who has been playing Thomas Jefferson for years and years is an entirely different kind of experience.  It is something I wish I had more time to learn about.

Patty’s advice about the practical work of housekeeping included tips about using lambs wool dusters (they are susceptible to carpet beetle infestations, watch out for shedding!) and other tips and products recommendations, the need for body fluid pick-up kits when cleaning up vomit because of blood born pathogens is something else that is vital to a housekeeping manual, especially if there will be a number of people in the space.

We have compiled a “Oh, Shit!” list of helpful advice and mini-treatments for the occasional spilled glass of red wine, chocolate, water, or the knocking off the wall of a painting or framed print.  This list has been compiled with information and facts from The National Trust Manual of Housekeeping, a vital book for any project like this, but something you’ll definitely want to check in your luggage as it is 900+ pages.  It costs around $150 as well, luckily I have funding from the Leo and Karen Gutmann Foundation specifically to buy books so I brought along a copy for the group.  Perhaps in my next post I will discuss more about what I brought that was helpful (both books were very good) and what could have been left at home (tape measures were never used as this was not a survey project). Two pairs of blue jeans and long socks were of course indispensable.

Matt Webster
Patty Silence
Colonial Williamsburg
Ossabaw Island

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Housekeeping on Ossabaw Island

Today was the first day to try out our housekeeping skills at the main house on Ossabaw Island.  It was really great to have a da

Ben dusting

y of hands-on activity as I had been spending a lot of time in my head.  I am also thinking a lot about wrappin

g up this project as I am leaving on Monday, which is only a few days away.  We have a beach planned for Sunday, and then I am leaving the next day so Saturday will be my last real day of physical work.

Housekeeping is hard, grimey work, especialy as I decided to clean the hearth in the room first and I had Maggie and Ari to help me which was great.  Maggie was great at removing the buckets of ashes from the fireplace and then poultice cleaning of glass baubles that had been set on the mantle.

Ari cleaned the fireplace stones to remove soot, using dampened sponges and detergent.    She and I also cleaned windows, firescreens, and glass.

I have been really impressed with Ari and Maggie as they have identified insects, cleaned sooty fireplaces, and had the energy to cook dinner in the evenings for their “cook night”.  They both made sugar cookies last night which were very tasty, especially considering there are no measuring cups at the house.

Ben has been fearless cleaning the wainscoting with a duster, taking care to cover paintings and curtaiRose and Ari clean fireplacens to prevent pushing dust onto these items.

Maggie Bearden
Ben Carver
Arial Hausman
Ossabaw Island
Art Conservation

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Emergency Planning on Ossabaw Island

Now we’ve begun the emergency planning portion.  Today was raining and last night was a huge thunderstorm, so it was appropriate that we stayed inside and planned for disasters like fires, floods, and hurricanes.  We’ve settled on a few good recommendations for the plan.  Most of the information was available online including: a shopping list for a disaster, a mutual aid agreement to involve other local institutions, and other information I found on the NCPTT disaster response section of their website. At the beginning most decisions were made by the group, sitting around and discussing every aspect.  This was a great way to write descriptions and conditions of each room in the house, and to discuss housekeeping plans, but for a disaster plan this was too unfocused and most plans can be based on a template.

The group

Then the topics involved in the plan were divided amongst us and we began to write individual sections with the understanding that we would go over everything together to give more sense of continuity.   Most of the write-up for the portion I am writing, about disaster prep, came from the Winterthur emergency management handbook that I photocopied before I left school to come to Ossabaw.  It is a very useful handbook as the wording is short and clear, and I found that bulleted lists seem more logical and quick in an emergency situation.  I am trying not to write too much that would not be useful in an emergency, as leafing through pages and pages could be something everyone doesn’t have the patience to do.

I hope it will be useful.

emergency planning
Ossabaw Island

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Ossabaw History and Archaeology

Today was a tour of the island to get a sense of the history of the place. Ossabaw is one of numerous barrier islands to the east of Georgia, Ossabaw is located around 7 miles by water south of Savannah.  There are many parts of the island geologically, the sandy beaches along the east end of the island are the youngest portion while the center of the island and the marshes to the west are considerably older.

Ossabaw mounds

Early evidence of human settlements on the island date from 2,000 B.C. in the form of small seasonal villages and oyster shell middens.  Over the next millenia there were a few other scattered settlements on the island, and for 500 years there was a large community located at the middle place on the island.  These people were probably the Guale, and they still inhabited the island when the Spanish arrived in the early 1500’s.  An excavation was led in the 1890’s by Clarence Moore who excavated the mounds on the island and wrote a book Certain Aborigional Mounds of the Georgia Coast.

I was impressed that the archaeologist could find the burial mounds, when walking through the place I could not see what they must have seen, it appears as a slight elevation in the overall landscape.  Luckily, Kristin  O’Connell is archaeologist by training and she could explain more of the archaeology practices to me. She also pointed out a piece of archaeological glass that had was made with magnesium or possible solarized which would have then turned a clear glass to a more of a purple color, I examined the glass and then returned it.

historic solarized glass The other interesting archaeological feature I saw on the island were a series of slave cabins made with Tabby walls. There is no natural stone on the island, so tabby was made with equal proportions of homemade lime, sand, oyster shells, and water.  After the introduction of Portland cement in the 1870’s, the tabby recipe was modified to include cement and substitute pre-made bag lime for homemade lime. In this building it can be seen that oyster shells and other debris, pre-historic pottery and a animal’s jaw bone, were added to the wall to give more substance to the wall.


tabby walltabby wall detail of prehistoric pottery and animal jaw bone

The tour continued to Middle Place where we saw the site of the Genesis Project, and where David lived for two years while he was the director of the Genesis Project.  We toured an abandoned kitchen under a beautiful, huge oak tree.  David has encouraged all of the crew to watch the movie Sherman’s March to see and understand more about the daily life of the people who were participating in that project. I have spoken with Arial and Maggie about meeting up again in Delaware and having a movie night.

Kitchen ruin at Middle Place

Throughout the walk about the island I thought about historic landscapes and how Ossabaw offers an opportunity for the art conservator and the environmental conservator to work together to conserve the unique environment of the island.  Ossabaw has one of the oldest continually used dirt roads in the United States, and there are marshes, grasslands, forests of pine and oak trees, and of course the beaches that together are the history of the island.

one of the oldest continually used dirt roads in America


Foskey, A. Ossabaw Island. from the Images of America Series.

Wikipedia authors. Ossabaw Island.

The features of Tabby walls.

The Cultural Landscape Foundation

Cultural Landscape
David Bayne
Kristin O’Connell
Ossabaw Island

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The Ossabaw Island Conservation Project

I have begun a two-week conservation project on Ossabaw Island, Georgia.  The project involves a team of conservators, conservation students, and conservation interns who will assess the condition of the main house on the island and give recommendations for future care of the collection and housekeeping.

The project began on January 16th, when I flew from Delaware to Jacksonville, Florida where I first met three of the other crew members.  I already knew the project coordinator, David Bayne, from a meeting over the summer at Shelburne Museum in Vermont. David became involved with the Island in the 1970’s as a director of ‘The Genesis Project’ which was a cooperative, sustainable community on the Island that operated with no electricity or running water.  I was curious as to what facilities would be available when I arrived on the island, would I have hot water? It’s January, I think it is a legitimate concern.

At the Jacksonville Airport I met Abby Zoldowski, Ben Carver, and Kristin O’Connell and we continued on to Savannah to meet the other half of our group, Arial Hausman and Maggie Bearden both in the University of Delaware undergraduate program in art conservation.

After introductions the group all drove through a Savannah rain shower to the studio of Greg Guenther, a furniture conservator and maker.  He gave a great tour of his studio space in a historic building where he was working on a variety of projects.  We were all impressed at the table Jason Thackeray, a furniture designer and maker, was in the process of finishing.  His neighbor, Michael T. O’Brien, a gilder, showed a project he was currently working on as well.

The next day we went to the store to buy provisions for the week (there are no stores on the Island) and set off on a 15-minute boat ride to Ossabaw Island. The Island is only accessible by boat and helicopter, and while the mainland is not very far away, once we arrived the sense of being far away from everything began to sink in and I felt incredibly relaxed.

Ossabaw Island Conservation Group

Ben Carver
Abby Zoldowski
David Bayne
Kristin O’Connell
Maggie Bearden
Ossabaw Island
Arial Hausman
Art Conservation

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