Retrieving Lost Splendor from the Ravages of Time and Whim: Restoring Architectural Integrity in Four State Capitol Buildings
John Mesick, Mesick Cohen Wilson and Baker Architects
New York State Senate Chamber, Albany, NY, designed by Henry Hobson Richardson, completed 1881
Vermont State House, Representatives Hall, Montpelier, VT, 1859
The theme of John Mesick's presentation shares the sentiments of John Ruskin (1819-1900) who admonished, in The Stones of Venice (1851-1853), "that it is again no question of expediency or feeling whether we shall preserve the buildings of past times or not. We have no right whatever to touch them. They are not ours. They belong partly to those who built them, and partly to all the generations of mankind who are to follow us." John Mesick's decades of work as an architectural restorer and preservationist are imbued with that same respect for what we have inherited. His topic will address his interior restoration of cultural integrity to four state capitols: Maryland (1783), Vermont (1859), Tennessee (1859) and New York (1881). The interiors of these monumental public buildings - once the visible embodiment of the nation's highest cultural aspirations, succumbed to the devastations of wear and abuse, the demands of new technology and changing functional needs, and the vagaries of ever changing notions of style.
John Mesick will explain to the Forum how restoration architects meet the challenge of retrieving lost integrity. Architects have acquired the disciplined approaches to building restoration that art conservators have long practiced. Before intervening in a structure, the architect conducts careful archival and physical investigations in order to obtain informed insights on original conditions and subsequent, numerous alterations. Intimate knowledge of the original architect's works, crafts artisans and patron are also required. As John Mesick well knows, successful restoration proposals must be formulated in order to gain legislative support and public approbation.
The decorative treatments of these capitols originally spanned the first century of the independent United States, ranging from the late Georgian style; Rococo, Renaissance and Romanesque Revivals; and culminating in the Aesthetic Movement. Dozens of artisans recreated all of the furnishings, furniture, carpets, draperies, lighting fixtures and wall treatments necessary to retrieve the decorative integrity of their respective, original stylistic vocabularies. At the same time, the modern functions of government were also accommodated. Each completed project made the past a reality again, invariably enhancing the public's appreciation of these monumental interiors.
John Mesick graduated from the Pratt Institute with a bachelor's degree in architecture. A Fulbright scholarship to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, in Copenhagen, Denmark, helped broaden his appreciation of European architecture. He has been an adjunct professor at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and the State University of New York at Albany awarded him an honorary doctorate of fine arts.
April's speaker designed for Eero Saarinen & Associates before becoming a project manager and architect, then partner, of Mesick Cohen Wilson Baker Architects and its predecessors. John Mesick's projects for historic structures reports, restoration, renovation and reconstruction read like a what's-what of historic structures. The range includes the 1660s chapel in Saint Mary's City, Maryland; George Washington's boyhood Ferry Farm home (second quarter of the 18th century) in Fredericksburg, Virginia; George Mason's Gunston Hall (1753-1759), Fairfax County, Virginia; James Madison's Montpelier (1760-1812), Montpelier Station, Virginia; Thomas Jefferson's Monticello (1769), Charlottesville, Virginia and Poplar Forest (1806), near Lynchburg, Virginia; Blair House (1824, 1859, 1860), Washington, D.C.; Thomas Cole's painting studio (1846), Catskill, New York; Isaac Bell House (1883), Newport, Rhode Island; The Elms (1901), Newport, Rhode Island; and Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesen (1912-1959), Spring Green, Wisconsin. In addition to numerous historic structures reports, John Mesick contributed the foreword to Cast with Style - Nineteenth Century Cast Iron Stoves from the Albany Area (1981). He also contributed "Henry Hobson Richardson" to Albany Architects - The Present Looks at the Past (1978) and Architects in Albany (2009).