The Henry Glassie Award, first given in 1999, is named for the renowned vernacular architecture scholar and folklorist, and recognizes special achievements in and contributions to the field of vernacular architecture studies. It is awarded intermittently, as deemed appropriate by the VAF Board of Directors.
Remarks given by Jeff Klee at the 2017 Salt Lake City conference
Two years ago, we honored Catherine Bishir, one of only two people in the world who have attended every single meeting of the VAF since it founding. This year, I'm pleased to say, we celebrate the other: Carl Lounsbury.
Now despite what you might think, the man known in high school as golden toe Lounsbury for his skills as a place kicker is not known around Virginia as Mr. Excitement. He's been using the same brand of soap for his entire adult life. It was seen as uncharacteristally flamboyant for him to buy a gray Camry, breaking a 25-year run of beige. And yet his has been a life filled with adventure. One of the many things that he shares with James Bond is that there have been attempts made on his life in both Venice and Jamaica. But today we honor Carl not for a life of derring-do, but for his work as a scholar and a major contributor to the success and the remarkable culture of the VAF.
Carl has been with the VAF from the beginning, from the days when the newsletter circulated in mimeographed typescript, the paper sessions came at the end of a long day of touring, eating, and drinking, and when a conference could be thrown together in about a month. In 1980, when this group was founded, Carl was just a promising young graduate student, somehow working simultaneously towards degrees in American studies at George Washington University and in architecture at NC State. A native of Winston-Salem, he came back to Carolina to conduct surveys in Alamance county and Southport. Those of you that went on the Stagville tour at last year’s conference enjoyed some of the fruits of his earliest research, including his oral histories with former residents. It was then, too, that he started working with Catherine Bishir on Architects and Builders in North Carolina, the first of Carl's books to win the Cummings award.
But a promising career in North Carolina was interrupted in 1982, when he was hired by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, where he joined Cary Carson, Ed Chappell, Willie Graham, and Mark Wenger. Among this already accomplished, ambitious group, Carl quickly established himself as both a careful fieldworker and a determined researcher, canvassing Virginia’s courthouses and libraries to compile an exhaustive documentary archive. This work would form the basis of his subsequent work on public buildings and of course, the indispensable Glossary of Early Southern Architecture and Landscape, which, by the way, was the second of Carl's books to win the Cummings award.
This early work in municipal records was joined by a longstanding program of fieldwork on public buildings and churches, research that led to the publication of his book on courthouses in 2005. For those keeping score, that was Cummings award #3. The church book is in progress but it's safe to say that it will be his magnum opus, the most comprehensive view of early American church architecture yet written.
Carl has been the most prolific member of the Williamsburg staff but he has not achieved that status by going it alone. The Chesapeake House, edited by Carl and Cary Carson but written by many collaborators, is exhibit A. As a group project, it proceeded more slowly than Carl might have liked, but the quality of the result testifies to the benefits of patience, determination, and genuine scholarly cooperation. Many academic departments like to congratulate themselves for their collegiality, which usually seems to mean that the faculty tolerate one another. The Williamsburg office was collaborative. The work was shared, both in the field and around the drafting table. This isn't collegiality. It's friendship.
Carl has friends far beyond the little circle in Williamsburg, thanks to his generosity with his expertise, but also thanks to his decency, his excellent sense of humor, and his treatment of students and inexperienced junior colleagues as peers. These qualities have made him a mentor to many. Through his classes at William and Mary, the University of Virginia, and Virginia Commonwealth University, he has taught hundreds of students, including a young Louis Nelson, who became an unofficial fifth member of the department of architectural research in Williamsburg for a little while in the 1990s. Carl has also been generous with his fellow scholars, both in the states and in the UK. He has organized conferences, including the 2002 VAF meeting, symposia, and memorable field tours. One very lucky group got to follow him around England for three weeks looking at parish churches.
One of the reasons that Carl has drawn so many of us into his friendly orbit is that, although he takes his work, and this organization, very seriously, he doesn't take himself that seriously. Like Abbott Cummings, who we remember fondly today, he wears his status as a guru very lightly. Maybe his humility is a product of his Moravian upbringing. Or maybe it comes from being a careful student of Cary Carson, his graduate and professional mentor. Either way, Carl is not someone who seeks accolades and recognition, which makes giving this award to him all the more enjoyable.
Carl, for your large body of rigorous, historically grounded scholarship, for your selfless dedication to the VAF, for your generous, good-humored mentorship of so many, and finally, for making the people around you better by your example and your support, this year’s Glassie award is for you.