By Jake Dougherty, Preserve WV AmeriCorps at Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation
My great story comes from an event I helped lead called Show of Hands. Show of Hands is an event meant to gain community support around positive programs happening in downtown Wheeling. The way it works is: people working on projects in downtown apply to present at the event. The selection committee chooses four projects based on location, need in the community, and void filled. The day of the event, attendees make a suggested donation at the door, and with that, they receive a vote. Attendees hear the presentations and vote on the one they like the most. The project with the most votes receives the money raised at the door, plus $1,000 courtesy of a global law firms whose headquarters are in downtown Wheeling.
After many hours spent building this concept, recruiting projects to present, doing promotions to get attendees there, the event started. With the expectation of about 40 attendees, we were blown away when 40 people were already in the building just 10 minutes after the doors opened. By the time the program began, there were close to 115 attendees and already $720 raised at the door.
After making the announcement of the winning vote getter, we announced this plan and the audience gasped, some even said that they got goosebumps from the announcement.
It was such an incredibly shocking moment, but it has so much more than shock value. 1) From the beginning the concept of Show of Hands was met with incredible support. The program received $5,000 in financial funding (before the unexpected announcement at the event), plus thousands in donated expertise, time, and products. 2)The community turnout was more than we ever could have expected. That shows the need for innovative solutions to get projects started, and that the community wants to get behind these projects. 3) We built new community partners, and they are enthused to be a part of the community. 4) After the fact, all four of the projects that pitched have started their projects and have an immense amount of community support.
This is my great story because through my service my goals were to work with historic resources like buildings and help get them utilized, build organizational and community capacity, and build a culture of social engagement. Not only was this done through a small concept implemented by just a few committed volunteers, but it completed transcended my impact. It has become a well respected project that is supported by many and impacts many.
I grew up in Wheeling. When I decided to leave the city or event during internships during college in town, I never would have expected this program to be this successful. It is something special to see my hometown come together more and more to become a innovative and wonderful place to live and be.
By Malina, Preserve WV AmeriCorps
In my last post I explained how I, a newly minted PAWV Preserve WV AmeriCorps member, was able to travel to Japan to interview a woodworker about his life, his craft, and his American friend, Janell Landis. As I knew very little Japanese going in, and my project partner, Paula, is a historian of Japan and has studied the language for nearly eight years, I decided to let her do the talking and relegated myself to equipment duty and appreciative observer of the sites.
Skipping over the nitty-gritty travel details, I will say only that my first, and most lasting, impression of Japan was how clean everything was. On the train ride north from Tokyo it was nearly impossible to distinguish the old buildings from the new, not just because of a combination of government-led housing construction and modernist concrete architectural design, but because there was no trace of dirt on building walls from pollution and many structures seemed freshly painted—it was all so clean. Walking around the city of Sendai, and later Akiu, I remarked to my personal translator and cultural guide, Paula, that there was so little litter. And she replied that it always amazed her that, despite the fact that there are very few public garbage cans, littering is very frowned upon in Japanese society. People just carry their trash with them over the course of the day and throw it away at home or work. This was by far the most noticeable difference to me in terms of urban spaces, which I have spent a lot of time thinking about since my tenure at Main Street Fairmont.
The mountains of the Tohoku region where Sendai sits are surprisingly reminiscent of Appalachia. We were fortunate to come at a time of the year when everything was green and the weather was sunny and mild. As is evident above, I found the built environment of Japan to be fascinating, especially the small town of Akiu which had, in addition to the traditional Japanese inn where we stayed, several high-rise apartment buildings in a town of roughly four concentrated blocks. However, architecture was not the cultural resource we had come to document.
Oral History is an energy-intensive process for interviewer and subject. We interviewed Hiroi-sensei for a total of 6 hours over two days. The rest of the time we spent at his home was taken up by exploring the work on sale in his shop, touring the other shops nearby, and meeting some of the people in Akiu who spend their time helping to preserve the artisan traditions of Japan. Hiroi-sensei lives in a planned neighborhood specially designed to house artisan masters and help them sell their art for a living. Each artisan lives in a small house with an adjoining shop. Other kinds of traditional Japanese artisans live and work in this ‘craft village’ as well. We were able to patronize two kokeshi doll makers, a woodworker, a furniture maker, a fabric artist, and others. The village also included an information center with some of the artisans’ work on display and free tea and coffee for visitors.
On our last day at the Akiu Craft Park we were able to sit down and talk with a young couple who volunteer their time at the information center and manage the Akiu Craft Park Facebook page. The young man, Takahashi-san, works at the local TV station and produced several short documentaries about the artisans in Akiu, including Hiroi-sensei. These young people are working consciously to promote Akiu, Sendai, and the larger Tohoku region as a viable tourist destination for Japanese people. The Japanese economy is significantly boosted by domestic tourism, but since the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that hit Sendai in 2011, many Japanese people have been avoiding travel to the region. By educating the public on the availability of traditional crafts in Akiu, the community there hopes to foster an atmosphere of preservation.
In his own way, Hiroi-sensei is also a preservationist, his family has passed down the particular way of making edo-goma, and he is passing it down to apprentices, like Janell and the two young people he is currently teaching, Maida-san and Misa-san. His process and materials are the same as those his father used and therefore, that process and the artworks he creates can be a similar window into history as any historical work of art or architecture. His process is interpretation while at the same time his art can be interpreted: though not historical themselves, they are artifacts ofhistory. We hope that, through our own efforts and those of Takahashi-san and others like him, traditional artisans like Hiroi-sensei and his neighbors will continue to practice their work and enrich Japanese culture for generations to come.
By Malina, Preserve WV AmeriCorps
In my two terms of AmeriCorps, one of the most exciting aspects of the program, for me, has been meeting new people who are taking on meaningful projects and networking with them. There are so many venues for AmeriCorps members to help each other with their projects and initiatives. Simply being in such a cooperative atmosphere can rub off on your other networks as well, and like-minded advocates and go-getters can be found in the most surprising places.
Before I began my service with PAWV’s Preserve WV program, I had started working with Paula R. Curtis on Carving Community: The Landis and Hiroi Collection as a favor to friend, and as a fun side project during my job search. When we started the project, we had no idea how far it would take us.
Paula is an incredibly impressive and smart person who was my sister’s roommate in college and is currently a PhD candidate in History at the University of Michigan and a Fulbright scholar. She runs a widely read blog entitled “What Can I Do with a BA in Japanese Studies?” That blog was the way a woman named Jane Heald first got in contact with Paula on behalf of her neighbor, Janell Landis. Janell is a former missionary who spent over thirty years living in Japan and teaching English at a women’s university in the region of Sendai. In 1981, after she had already been in Japan for nearly three decades, Janell met a local artisan who makes edo-goma(traditional spinning-tops) and began learning his craft. Janell gets such joy from these little wooden art-pieces that she has amassed a collection of nearly two hundred distinct tops.
At 87, she began to think of the future of these precious items and wanted to find a museum to which she could donate them. She turned to Jane and Jane, after a simple Google search, turned to Paula. Paula was so intrigued by Janell’s story that she turned to me. As a graduate student in Public History, I gained some experience with oral history. Thus, Paula’s idea was to interview Janell as a kind of PR for the collection. We toyed with the idea of writing a journal article with the information from the interview, but decided that the publishing process would likely take too long and there could be no assurance that we would be printed at all. I turned to my advisor from graduate school who gave us the idea of an online “exhibit” website of our findings in the interview. The project never would have begun without the incredible network of each person involved.
In October, Paula and I travelled to Janell’s home in Tennessee and conducted the interview over three days. There was much to discuss including her life in the US during World War II, her decision to become a missionary, her training, her life in Japan, how she met her sensei and what his work meant to her. She demonstrated the workings of the tops and introduced us to some of the people in her community who had also spent time in Japan. She asked us if we would be willing to travel with her to Japan when she planned to visit for the last time in May. We were evasive: how could we afford to?
But the idea was planted in our minds, and it opened up the possibility of filling in the gaps of the narrative we started. If we could interview her sensei, Hiroi Michiaki, we could understand his intent in creating each piece and his history with his only American and first female pupil. Thus, instead of transcribing the interview we had and posting the video we had taken in Tennessee, we devoted our time to writing grants and promoting a successful Kickstarter campaign aimed at buying the AV equipment we would need to take with us. With a generous grant from Paula’s department at Michigan and a little more money from the Kickstarter than our original goal, we both joined Janell in her journey from Nashville to Sendai, Japan.
This was a project that started with nothing: an email from a retired woman on behalf of her friend that resulted in an international journey and a museum home for Janell’s collection. Thanks to another member of Paula’s University network, the Morikami Museum in Delray Beach, Florida will be adding Hiroi’s tops to their collection of traditional Japanese art works. Janell is overjoyed that people from all over the country will be able to view and appreciate the work of her teacher and friend.
In Part 2, I will discuss my impressions of Japan, our interview with Hiroi-sensei, and some surprising preservation work going on in the town of Akiu, Japan.
By Rodney, Preserve WV AmeriCorps
During the week of June 16th to the 20th, I set out to participate in a hands on preservation project in the Monongahela National Forest. The project was focused on rehabilitating a historic shelter on the top of a high, overlooking mountain. I was joined by one other PreserveWV AmeriCorps member, Sami, as well as the Preservation Alliance’s VISTA, Alex. We experienced various levels of accomplishment throughout the week. Undeniable however, we found the work was honest and progress was evident, but in real life projects, there is no telling what surprises you’ll find.
The site chosen for this project was a historic Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built shelter. The cabin is located on the top of a high ridge point giving 360 degree views of the surrounding forest. Because of this location, the shelter was used by forest fire patrols surveying the area from above in the nearby fire tower. The cabin was built by the CCC around 1931. It is made up of one main room, a small front porch, and attic area above the living space. There is evidence of wood stoves but due to vandalism, all that remained inside were a cabinet and limited shelving.
We began cleaning up trim pieces and wood window pieces. To our surprise, we found the new wooden windows ordered by the park service were much too big for the frame. Project supervisor, John Rossi, led me through the process to measure and cut down the sashes. I learned to assemble to rail system and eventually installed all three windows.
The historic Entler-Weltzheimer House is believed to be the oldest log structure in Shepherdstown. Built in the 1790s, the structure is the last remaining example of vernacular architecture in that part of Shepherdstown. The university obtained the house in 1926, converting it to a sorority house and domestic science classroom.
The follow-up workshop will be held due in part to the remaining funding which the Historic Preservation and Public History Program received from the Two Rivers Giving Circle and a matching grant from the Historic Shepherdstown Commission.
By Rodney, Preserve WV AmeriCorps
Preservation Alliance of West Virginia carried out a workshop to help put the finishing touches on windows at the Old Traveler’s Rest near Burlington, WV. This was the final step of the restoration project which began back in 2012. PAWV staff were accompanied by three volunteers to support the efforts.
Thursday, June 26th was the first day of the two-day workshop. The day began with an educational session by Statewide Field Services Representative, Lynn Stasick. Lynn’s presentation included the proper use of wood consolidates and other treatment techniques using the Abatron line of wood care products. Immediately following was a discussion of paint history and chemistry. To round out the morning, Lynn demonstrated hands-on methods of the type of work occurring during the workshop.
Work included using a router tool to install weather stripping along crucial edges of the wooden windows. Other volunteers also worked to remove paint and clean up exterior and interior window sills and trim. The next day saw the completion of weatherization and treatment of the window sills to restore the wood. Some priming and painting will complete the window restoration.
Volunteers joined the efforts of the Mineral County Historical Foundation, directed by Foundation President, Frank Roleff and longtime friends of the foundation. The work of the Foundation has focused on raising funds and beginning restoration of the original section of the structure. The building was built in two segments, the first in 1810. The original intention was serving travelers traveling along the Old Northwestern Turnpike between Parkersburg, West Virginia and Winchester, Virginia.
PAWV was fortunate to be joined by three volunteers. The most coincidental volunteer was Alex Dye of Morgantown whose Great-Grandparents lived in the house at one time. Lindsy Whittaker also joined the crew, looking to gain hands-on experience to supplement her recent degrees in History and Museum Studies from Fairmont State University. Julie DiBiase, AmeriCorps with the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area, who is currently serving with Arthurdale Heritage, Inc., volunteered both Thursday and Friday.
Looking for information on recruiting PAWV volunteers and staff for your preservation projects, contact email@example.com for more information.
All members in the Preserve WV AmeriCorps program benefit from intensive training. It is an important part of our program and all AmeriCorps programs. All members are trained at the beginning of the service year in historic preservation, heritage tourism, economic development, and more. Throughout the remainder of the year, members are given other opportunities for training, whether that be attending the WV Association of Museums conference or the National Main Street Center conference. Recently, one of our members, Eliza, received a scholarship to attend an Oral History Summer School in Hudson, NY. Read all about her experiences on her Tumblr, HERE.
The Preserve WV AmeriCorps program is a service initiative created by the Preservation Alliance of WV.
The goals of this program are to build capacity of nonprofit organizations and to improve historical resources all over the great state of WV. It is made possible through formula grant funding from the Corporation for National & Community Service and Volunteer WV. This funding allows PAWV to train and provide a modest living allowance to all of our members. There is little funding for administrative overhead, although this program has become an important part of our mission. We rely on donations from our members and readers to make these programs possible. If you are interested in donating to PAWV, please visit our PayPal page. Every little bit counts!
By Raven, Preserve WV AmeriCorps
The Marion County Historical Society has partnered with a local home school co-op, Learning Options Inc. Preserve WV AmeriCorps member Raven Thomas has been spearheading this project by organizing lesson plans and creating fun activities for the children in the class that is hosted by the Historical Society. Raven serves as the instructor for the class titled Appalachian Anthropology, which takes place once a week from 2:30-3:30 and averages about 10 students per class. In the year 2014 there have been five classes and Appalachian Anthropology will become of permanent part of the Learning Options curriculum once the new school year starts in September 2014.
Past lesson plans have been “the mound builders” where Raven constructed small “burial” mounds for the children to excavate. This lesson taught about the early cultures of West Virginia and Marion County, as well as the importance of archaeology and discovery. One other such lesson was titled “Black Days, Black dust” in which the class learned about coal mining and its importance today, as well as in the past. Marion County history was taught through the discussion of the Monangah mine disaster and the immigration patterns of miners in the area. Also included in this lesson was a crash course in the past and present types of coal mining and the students were able to mine chocolate chips out of muffins, which also served as a wonderful treat once they reached their coal quota for the day. Another lesson featured one room schoolhouses and school yard games, which the children thoroughly enjoyed. The last lesson was part of the End of Year Party and the historical society set up a candle station where the students learned about double wick candle dipping and even made their own candles to take home. This class has been enjoyed by students and parents alike and provides an excellent opportunity for the Marion County Historical Society to reach out to the younger community.
By Michael, Preserve WV AmeriCorps
My name is Michael Burk and I am a native West Virginian who is very excited about being able to serve as a Preserve West Virginia AmeriCorps member. I am serving at the National Coal Heritage Area office in Oak Hill and am very excited to be here. After originally receiving a BS in Healthcare Administration from West Virginia University Institute of Technology, I decided to return to school and follow my true passion, history. I graduated with Honors from American Public University with an MA in American History. I currently live in Fayetteville, WV with my wife and 13 year old son.
I am really looking forward to serving with both PAWV and the National Coal Heritage Area. I think that preserving the coal heritage of West Virginia is long overdue and hope to do my part in making it happen. While here I will be working on multiple projects including interpretive signage, National Register nominations, as well as other projects aimed at promoting Heritage Tourism in the 13 southern West Virginia counties that make up the NCHA. One of the major tasks I will take part in is composing a complete inventory of all National Register places in the Coal Heritage Area that are related to the coal industry. This inventory will include current and past photographs as well as a brief history of each site.
I have been here for a short time, but I have developed a very deep passion for the preservation of the past here in the area. The sites that were so prominent during the coal boom era are slowly crumbling away. That is bad enough, but the fact that so much of the history is being forgotten is just as bad. If changes are not made, soon the sacrifices and hard work of the miners and their families will be forgotten. I hope to be able to change that as I serve the people of this area. My roots run deep in southern West Virginia, and I want to make sure that the true story, both good and bad, is told for generations to come.
Each Preserve WV AmeriCorps member is required to submit a “Great Story”, which is about the people we serve. This Great Story comes to us from Rodney, PAWV’s Preserve WV AmeriCorps member.
I am eight months into my AmeriCorps service term with the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia (PAWV). Many of our days involve traveling into rural communities where historic gems are tucked away around every bend and just over the next hill. Our goal is to promote preservation efforts throughout the state; no projects are too small or big.
A large part of my position involves assisting with windows restoration workshops. I was surprised to learn of the importance of preserving windows to maintain a building’s historic integrity. But look at any building, and the size and arrangement of windows is entirely evident and inheritably important. Each historic window is a piece of artistic and careful woodworking. What is equally surprising to me is the feasibility of preserving these pieces, even for an average home owner or property steward. Through our workshops, we seek to instill confidence in Do-It-Yourselfers to follow through with their own windows project.
A very recent and successful workshop occurred at the Shepherdstown University. The workshop was attended by students and open to the public for free due to two grants. In total we had around 35 attendees for the two day workshop. Many expressed their own takeaways and similar revelations to when I started learning about windows restoration. To that end, they left excited and more comfortable regarding their own windows projects.
Each of these workshops continues to spread information on historic preservation throughout West Virginia. Each of the participants, whether they have a project of their own or just have an interest in old things, takes something away from the presentation. Hopefully they view preservation as valuable to their own communities. As word spreads, it is my wish that West Virginians continue to recognize the range of historic resources and the need for preservation in the Mountain State. And upon seeing how even windows can be restored with a couple of tips and tricks, realize that even tackling the larger projects is doable and help is always within reach.
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