Three University of Mary Washington’s, Department of Historic Preservation alumni, Jen Mason, Justine Bello, and Caitlin Smith spent the better part of the last three years helping with the incredible task of conserving the US Capitol building. Employed by Conservation Solutions Inc., the three Mary Washington alums meticulously worked to clean the delicate stonework using lasers and applying chemical consolidates when necessary.
During the initial phase this past summer, the alumni had the opportunity for some hands-on experience while preserving the exterior stone on the east and north elevations of the Senate wing of the building. The company’s role allowed them to work in both the initial preparation and final detailing phases to restore. They worked within time and environment/weather constraints to utilize specialized methodology.
The group focused on twenty-two columns on the east elevation and ten columns on the north elevation. There were six levels of scaffolding wrapped around the building being held in place by tension braces on columns The chemical consolidates they used had temperature and humidity requirements for application and curing, so there were days when industrial heaters and air conditioners had to be used to surround the work within the scaffold. Necessary protective gear and summer temperatures of up to 107 degrees indeed made for a challenging restoration project, but at the end of the day, being a part of such a monumental preservation effort was worth every drop of sweat.
The UMW alumni were allowed to be a part of a nationally recognized structure’s restoration and the importance of their work will be recognized on a national scale for years to come. One of these alumni took away a beautiful moment from the long and tedious work given to her: “The upside was that I got to eat lunch sitting next to gorgeous historic leafy capitals and had a great view of DC from deck 6”, said Jen, in regards to the tedious task of which they had been given.
This opportunity gave them real life experience as well as a foundation for further graduate degrees preparation to help them pursue careers in the conservation and management of historic resources both in the built and natural environment.
This summer’s endeavor was just the beginning, as this work prepared the alumni for the next planned phase, which is slated to begin in February. The same team will be charged with further restoration of the Capitol building. For those interested in following the developments of this complete restoration, pictures from the project and information can be found on the Architect of the Capitol’s website and Flickr —