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  • 12 Oct 2018 3:00 AM | Christine R Henry

    Welcome to the Fall 2018 issue of VAN.  In the news category, we have a special article about the renaming of a building at Washington and Lee University in honor of Pamela Simpson

    The Fall issue includes plenty of useful information such as calls for nominations for board members and various VAF awards.  In addition, there is a call for papers for the upcoming annual meeting in Philadelphia in late May, 2019, an announcement of a VAF NE Chapter event in October, a job announcement and a call for abstracts.

    The member news section is packed with updates from members about the great work they have been doing writing, researching, and teaching, as well as three profiles of VAF board members. There is a featured essay from the 2018 VAF Access Awardee and two field note essays, one from the University of Oregon and one from McGill University.

    To round out the issue we have our bibliography packed with useful resources that span the disciplines that contribute to vernacular architecture studies. 

    Thanks as always for the contributions to the newsletter.  Happy Reading!

    Christine Henry, Newsletter Editor

  • 12 Oct 2018 2:50 AM | Christine R Henry

    by Harley Cowan

    I am an architect by profession but an interest in film photography led to a research fellowship in HABS/HAER photo documentation. I attended University of Oregon’s Preservation Field School in 2017 and have been a historic preservation groupie ever since. I have worked with historians and preservationists to document and interpret heritage sites in the Northwest as well as lecture and demonstrate large format photography. Then in May, thanks to the Access Award, I traveled from Oregon to Virginia to attend my first VAF conference.

    My wife Carrie is an elementary school teacher and the true history buff in our house. I did not do myself any favors by posting the riverboat journey and the evening reception at Mount Vernon on Instagram. Upon my return to Oregon, let’s just say that I was lucky to find that the locks on my house had not been changed. Next time, I doubt I will be headed to the conference alone.

    I had never spent time in an American city with the sheer density of built history that was present in Alexandria--haunts of the founding fathers, people from history lessons, at every turn. And I appreciated the degree of access we were afforded, in what I understand to be true VAF nature, climbing into the attic of an apothecary or a crawling around the cellar of a tavern, seeing methods of construction, touching brick and timbers. Certainly as an architect, it was a pleasure to go behind the scenes. But more than that, it made the history lessons and those people real, palpable. The VAF conference is a marathon, full of content; with each event, at every bus stop, upon rounding each corner, we encountered the breadth and depth of American experience.

    One warm evening, Sotterley Plantation encapsulated all of this, with its collection of fine and ordinary facilities spanning three centuries. We dined in the barn, walked through the fields and gardens, past farm sheds and corn cribs, a gatehouse, an outhouse, a smokehouse. I was glad that we had the luxury of time, to sit in the sun and watch it set, feel the air cool, and be present. It was a chance to wonder about the people who lived here and worked the plantation. What was this place like for them?

    It is difficult to pack all of that into a single frame, but for me this photograph of the stair railing in the main house comes close. It is one character defining feature of the house, a privilege of wealth, class, and taste. Its design and craftsmanship are exquisite. Intricate in its detail and compound curvature, its method of fastening or joinery is wholly invisible.

    Even less evident though is that this railing is the product of slave labor. Literally a shout away in the gulley next to this beautiful house is a humble slave quarters, no more than perhaps a hundred-fifty square feet, dirt floor, low ceiling, with a narrow, scrap lumber ladder to the sleeping room in the attic space above. As many as nineteen people, owned by the plantation, lived in this structure.

    After the tours, the paper sessions, and the energetic, sometimes heated discussions that followed, my impression is that this is what makes VAF special: it’s for people who want the whole picture.

    Harley Cowan


    Instagram: @harleycowan

  • 12 Oct 2018 2:40 AM | Christine R Henry

    Landscapes of Succession, May 29 to June 1, 2019 in Philadelphia, PA.

    Paper Proposal DEADLINE – OCTOBER 29, 2018

    The Vernacular Architecture Forum (www.vafweb.org) invites paper proposals for its 38th Annual Conference, Landscapes of Succession, May 29 to June 1, 2019 in Philadelphia, PA. Papers may address vernacular and everyday buildings, sites, or cultural landscapes worldwide. Submissions on all relevant topics are welcome but we encourage papers focusing on different layers of settlement and use over time, exploring agriculture, maritime activities, industrialization, urbanization, suburbanization, as well as themes such ethnic identity, religious expression, and the creation of vacation and recreation landscapes. Additionally, the VAF is launching a multi-year program of inquiry into the distinctiveness of the VAF and the vernacular architecture movement. To this end, we encourage papers that consider this field over time. How does the wide range of VAF projects (tours, guidebooks, book and article awards, field schools, annual conference papers, publications, etc.) demonstrate how our questions, concerns, and methods have changed and evolved? Where do we see evidence of that history in our current work, and what might our future look like? Proposals might focus on a particular building type (i.e. houses, barns), a research strategy (fieldwork), political or theoretical convictions (Gender, Marxism, the Everyday, etc.), or particular approaches to presenting our work and engaging colleagues and the public.

    Students and young professionals may apply for the Pamela H. Simpson Presenter’s Fellowships offering support of up to $500 to presenting papers at VAF’s annual conference.


    Papers should be analytical rather than descriptive, and no more than twenty minutes in length. Proposals for complete sessions, roundtable discussions or other innovative means that facilitate scholarly discourse are especially encouraged. At least one session will be devoted to Field Notes – shorter papers (five to eight minutes in length) that introduce new techniques, innovations, and discoveries in documenting vernacular buildings and landscapes. Proposals should clearly state the argument of the paper and explain the methodology and content in fewer than 400 words. Make sure to indicate if it is a regular paper proposal or a shorter fieldwork proposal or intended for the VAF distinctiveness session. Please include the paper title, author’s name, email address, a one-page c.v. You may include up to two images with your submission. Note that presenters must deliver their papers in person and be VAF members at the time of the conference. Speakers who do not register for the conference by March 4, 2019, will be withdrawn. Please do not submit an abstract if you are not committed to attending the papers session on Saturday, June 1, 2019.


    The abstracts and c.v. should be emailed as a PDF attachment to the VAF Papers Committee Chair, Melissa McLoud at papers@vafweb.org. For general information about the Philadelphia conference, please visit the conference website at http://www.vafweb.org/Philadelphia-2019 or contact Michelle Weaver Jones, VAF Conference Planner, conference@vafweb.org.

    All abstracts received will be acknowledged.


    VAF’s Pamela H. Simpson Presenter’s Fellowships offer a limited amount of financial assistance to students and young professionals presenting papers at VAF’s annual conference. Awards are intended to offset travel and registration costs for students, and to attract developing scholars to the organization. Any person presenting a paper who is currently enrolled in a degree-granting program, or who has received a degree within one year of the annual conference is eligible to apply. Awards cannot exceed $500. Previous awardees are ineligible, even if their status has changed. Recipients are expected to participate fully in the conference, including tours and workshops.

    To apply, submit with your abstract a one-page attachment with "Simpson Presenter’s Fellowship" at the top and the following information: 1) name, 2) institution or former institution, 3) degree program, 4) date of degree (received or anticipated), 5) mailing address, 6) permanent email address, 7) telephone number, and 8) paper title.
  • 12 Oct 2018 2:30 AM | Christine R Henry

    by James Buckley

    A UO student cleans the back patio stones at the Cottrell house under the watchful eye of the instructors.The University of Oregon Pacific Northwest Field School (PNWFS) tried something new this year: after 24 years of rotating locations among many beautiful historic sites throughout the Pacific Northwest, the program stayed home this summer.  Graduate students in the Historic Preservation Program spent the second week of September exploring and repairing Portland’s Cottrell House, a 1950 regional modernist home designed by John Yeon and owned by the University of Oregon.  Yeon, a designer and environmentalist who received little formal architectural training, built this four-bedroom home on a heavily forested plot high in Portland’s Southwest Hills.  Resetting stones after experiments with matching the mortar.The Cottrell House was the last house Yeon designed and it is across the street from his first - the renowned Watzek House (1937). The Cottrell House, designed for a family of five, is a departure from some of his earlier work but still encapsulates character defining Yeon features such as the use of native materials, framing and interplay with the surrounding landscape, and wide over-hanging eaves that create protected outdoor spaces. Key characteristics of this building deeply influenced regional and national architects designing residential structures in the 1960s.

    UO students, working under the direction of Visiting Professor Chad Randl and graduate student Project Coordinator Allison Geary, worked closely with regional preservation practitioners to address conservation needs.  The National Park Service provided instructors from Ebey’s Landing, WA and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area to assist in projects such as stabilizing and preserving a stone patio and steps, testing and replacing deteriorated exterior paneling, refinishing a teak handrail, and resurfacing and repainting louvers. UO student Brandon Geiger removes the original teak handrail for restoration.In addition to these hands-on projects, students learned about historic mortars, documentation, cultural landscape analysis, wood identification, and wood pathology. Local preservation professionals offered lectures each evening and students took a day long field trip to visit historic sites in the Portland area. Marcy Cottrell-Houle visits her childhood home and shows her father’s film of the house construction.A highlight of the week was the visit of former residents Marcy and John Cottrell-Houle, who joined the closing barbecue to view the completed work, share stories, and show a delightful home movie of the house under construction.

    The Cottrell House was a new experience for the Field School program, providing a chance to learn about modern construction and materials and add to the range of structures the Field School approaches.  The PNWFS is supported by a consortium of state agencies in conjunction with the National Park Service and the University of Oregon.  For more information please visit https://archenvironment.uoregon.edu/hp/field-schools/pacific-northwest-preservation-field-school

  • 12 Oct 2018 2:27 AM | Christine R Henry

    ARCH514: 2018 Community Design Workshop

    From August 10 to August 31, 2018, ten McGill architecture students and architect/carpenter Theodore Oyama participated in this design/build workshop coordinated by Professor Robert Mellin in the outport of Tilting, Fogo Island, Newfoundland. Students engaged in a collaborative design and construction project to provide access to "The Devil's Rocking Chair," a large rock on the edge of the rugged coastline near Greene's Point. Previously extremely challenging to access, the project involved the construction of a series of platforms or "bridges" as they are locally known that take visitors on a journey through a small valley leading to the stone. The path was carefully arranged to enhance the experience of the terrain and geology. This is one of the most remarkable locations in Newfoundland for its geological features, the intersection between light and dark igneous rocks, also with a few large metamorphic rocks from Baffin Island deposited during the last Ice Age. The project was initially inspired by Professor Ricardo Castro's chapter "A Ceremonial Path among Rocks, Sun, Wind, and Words," in the book Syndetic Modernisms (Piloto University, Bogota, 2012), describing a stone path at Punta Pite on the Pacific coast of Chile. Similar to the project in Chile, our project highlights the difference between the rough, irregular terrain and the smooth and comparatively fragile wooden bridges. Construction was difficult as much painstaking work was required to fit wooden elements to the stones. Ballast lockers containing heavy stones were installed under all the bridges to prevent wind-uplift, and also to resist heavy seas that occasionally break over these cliffs in winter storms.

    For images of the landscape and constructions, please visit 

  • 12 Oct 2018 2:25 AM | Christine R Henry

    Pamela Simpson at VAF 2011 in Jamaica. Image courtesy of Catherine Bishir. As reported in the Washington Post on October 11, 2018, Pamela Simpson has been honored by the dedication of a building in her name at Washington & Lee University, where she taught for many years.  Pam was a past-president of VAF, co-editor of Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture, and attendee of every annual meeting from our organization’s inception until her death in 2011.  VAF annually sponsors Simpson Fellows—students and young professionals who deliver papers at our conference—in her honor.

    Washington & Lee, like many institutions, is in the process of re-evaluating its history with slavery.  One recommendation from a commission examining the school’s legacy was to rename certain buildings.  Accordingly, the Lee-Jackson House, named after two Confederate heroes, was renamed the Simpson House in honor of Pam, who was the first woman professor to be tenured at the university.  As one of her VAF friends said, “What a nice way to honor such a wonderful person.”

  • 12 Oct 2018 2:20 AM | Christine R Henry

    I have always had an interest in everyday buildings, but Carl Lounsbury first introduced me to Vernacular Architecture studies as an undergraduate at the College of William and Mary. I attended my first VAF conference in 2007 in Savannah shortly after graduation and was struck by the diversity of scholars and professionals that the organization embraces. I believe the interdisciplinary profile of the VAF is one of its greatest strengths.

    After William and Mary, my attention turned to buildings archaeology, with training at Bristol University in the UK for a Master’s in Historical Archaeology and then onto Boston University for a doctorate in Archaeology with a focus on the early modern Atlantic world. I began research in Bermuda working closely with the Bermuda National Trust. After lecturing at Boston University for two years, I shifted my focus towards vernacular buildings and historic preservation. I was lucky enough to enroll in the Clemson/College of Charleston Historic Preservation Program, where I worked with Carter Hudgins, Ed Chappell, and Willie Graham. After graduating I served as Associate Director of the Warren Lasch Conservation Center at Clemson and Adjunct Professor in the Clemson/CofC preservation program.

    In 2007, I moved to Texas A&M where I am an Assistant Professor of Architecture and Associate Director of the Center for Heritage Conservation; I teach classes in Vernacular Architecture and Historic Preservation. I have active research in Bermuda, South Carolina, and Barbados.

    I am excited to serve as new VAF board member and as chair of the Education Committee, where we are working to provide new vernacular architecture resources to students and the public. As a member of the 2020 VAF conference committee, I look forward to seeing everyone in San Antonio for good food and even better vernacular buildings.

  • 12 Oct 2018 2:15 AM | Christine R Henry

    I feel as though I’ve been raised as a VAF member. I was first introduced to the organization by Anna Andrzejewski while an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. I attended my first field school (co-taught by Anna, Tom Carter, and Janet Gilmore) measuring what were effectively people’s storehouses in 105 degree weather in Southwestern Wisconsin, and somehow I was hooked. Before long I was auditing classes in the then-fledgling Buildings-Landscapes-Cultures Program organized by Anna and Arijit Sen of UW-Milwaukee, and in 2010 I attended my first VAF conference in Washington, D.C. Since then, I have attended each of the meetings (except, much to my great dismay, Jamaica) and this organization has taken me from the mouth of the St. Lawrence River to the valley fields of Sanpete County, Utah.

    After graduation I spent a stint working in Southern Indiana, then joined the Center for Historic Architecture and Design at the University of Delaware for my Master’s Degree, followed by a few years working for the City of Philadelphia’s Parks and Rec Department as an architectural historian. This fall I returned to Madison, pencil and drawing board in hand, to embark upon my PhD coursework—making official my enrollment in the BLC. In every step of my career I have relied on the methodologies and ideas put forth by VAF scholars, and have turned to their words just as frequently outside of academia as within. It is in this spirit that I welcome the opportunity to step into this role, as bibliographer for the VAF, to care for and contribute to the document that celebrates those words.

  • 12 Oct 2018 2:10 AM | Christine R Henry

    I am thrilled to join the board of the Vernacular Architecture Forum, a group which I hold dear to my heart, and which has been truly transformative in my professional life. As I shared with the board at a recent meeting, when I discovered the VAF in college -- serendipitously through an early iteration of the organization’s website -- it was like finding my people. Studying “old houses” had been a passion of mine since grade school, writing booklets and giving walking tours for my hometown historical society. Discovering that others were interested in buildings that were both old and common was a key revelation. Knowing that there was an academic discipline beyond the awkward fit of my history and art history classes was critical in shaping my career path. Finding the organization, in part, lead me to a PhD in American and New England Studies at Boston University, where I had the honor of studying with VAF stalwarts including Claire Dempsey, Jessica Sewall, and William Moore.

    But I really learned how lucky I was to have VAF as my academic home at my first conference in Savannah in 2007. I was a precocious (but thoroughly terrified) first-year graduate student, giving my first real academic paper at Jessica’s suggestion, on the seeds of a topic that would eventually become my dissertation and now my first book. I will never forget the warm, humorous, and encouraging remarks and advice I received from the late Pamela Simpson, whose book on industrially-made architectural ornament had been instrumental at that stage of my research, but whose name I embarrassingly neglected to credit in my remarks.  Each subsequent conference, my attendance at some of which was supported by the organization’s ambassadors fellowship, soon became the highlight of my year. The collegiality, conviviality, and passion for the built environment on display each time always raised my spirits, kept me at my work through the rough patches, and gave me an imagined audience of colleagues and friends that I always wanted to make pound.  

    For all of these reasons, and many more, I very much cherish the opportunity to sit on the VAF board – as well as serving as the organization’s communications chair and webmaster. In doing so I hope to give a little something back to a group that truly has given so much to me.

  • 12 Oct 2018 2:05 AM | Christine R Henry

    Laura Driemeyer and Lynne Monroe will lead us in a field trip that will focus on the remarkably intact historic nineteenth-century center of Kensington, New Hampshire including a group of institutional buildings arrayed in linear fashion.  

    In the afternoon the tour will continue at an early 19th century private home located outside of the village district.

    Details to follow!

    Trips are a benefit of your VAF membership!

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