A wide shot of a ceramics studio, featuring students working with pottery wheels and other tools.

Field Trip

Historic Preservation Students at the Oak Park Art League

by Brontë Mansfield (MA 2017)

Melanie Bishop (MS 2017) and Rebekah Trad (MArch 2018) evaluate the exterior of the Oak Park Art League building.

Built in 1902, the Oak Park Art League building began as a Victorian carriage house and stables. In 1937, the Art League acquired it, and since then, it has housed exhibitions and hosted studio art classes for the local community. But like any 114-year-old building, it’s seen better days—in fact, this building has seen better decades.

“I’m always keeping an eye out for nonprofits that own historic buildings and could use our help,” says SAIC Professor Anne Sullivan, John H. Bryan Chair in Historic Preservation. Each year Sullivan teaches a Building Diagnostic course, partnering with a local historic building. In spring 2016, her students completed a preservation plan for the Oak Park Art League building just west of Chicago.

Historic Preservation Certificate student Rebekah Trad takes finish samples for microscopic analysis to identify layers of paint colors over time.
Notes about existing conditions are handwritten on building elevations, then are translated to detailed and keyed Autocad drawings.

“It’s a mutually beneficial relationship,” she explains. The nonprofits reap the benefits of free analysis, advice, and preservation maintenance plans; while SAIC students get field experience to prepare them for life after graduation.

Ten of Sullivan’s students made visits to the Art League building. They took measurements with laser tools to create precise building plans, sketched features of the house, took paint samples, and surveyed the original wood frame and art glass windows.

Program Director Anne Sullivan looks on as Candace Williams (MS 2017) takes detailed notes about deteriorated areas of the building.

“That first day was so cold,” Sullivan recalls. The students had to survey the exterior of the building in the snow. “We were on a ladder, we were poking around, and our feet were cold.” The next week, a beautiful spring day saw blossoms on the Art League’s tree and smiles on the faces of Sullivan’s students.

“But that’s the nature of what we do,” she laughs. Rain or shine, historic buildings like the Oak Park Art League need to be preserved to connect us to our past. Sullivan is training the next generation of architectural stewards—one field trip at a time.