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Theatrical Set Designs

Oklahoma! by the Sitka Fine Arts Camp Musical Theater Camp, 2019

Directed by W. T. McRae. I designed and built this with the Best. Crew. Ever. Performed at the Sitka Performing Arts Center.

9 to 5, Sitka Community Theater, Spring 2019

My design, also at Sitka’s Performing Arts Center. Again had stellar crew, all community volunteers. Lighting design by J Bradley!

Fuddy Meers, Sitka High School Play, Spring 2019

This was also at Sitka’s Performing Arts Center. Did this in pretty short order, using as much as we could pieces from 9 to 5 – the Xerox machine is now the kitchen sink, and the “bed” from Once Upon a Mattress is transformed into the kitchen stove. That’s a real refrigerator, but we gave it the Avocado Green treatment. Created by community volunteers and the Sitka High School Drama class, directed and taught by Christian Litten.

Photos is with the upstage curtain open, right after I finished touching up the paint. It was closed for the show.

Once Upon A Mattress, Young Performers Theater, Spring 2019

Set Design

Sets in 2017, for the Young Performers Theater (at Odess Theater, Allen Memorial Hall) and the Sitka Fine Arts Camp Musical Theater Camp at Sitka’s Performing Arts Center, and for Sitka Community Theater, also at the Performing Arts Center.

Alice In Wonderland, Young Performers Theater, Fall 2017

The Wall, the House, the Roses and the Mushroom come off the backdrop to cover the front of a small platform. When they are removed, they reveal sections of text from the book.

Sense and Sensibility, Sitka Community Theater, Spring 2017

Another minimal design, from Spring 2017 for the Sitka Community Theater’s production of Kate Hamill’s Sense and Sensibility. The entire set – tables, chairs, walls, doorways and windows – was on casters, stealing from the original staging. Fun, and some engineering.

Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Sitka Fine Arts Camp Musical Theater Camp, 2017

This one I just contributed a few elements: the crow’s nest (fully functional!) and a statue of Prince Eric – modeled on the production’s Prince Eric. Did I capture a resemblance?

What a wonderful production! As you can see the costumes and performances were just wonderful . . . Under the Sea! Photographs by Clarice Johnson, except the one of me with that heavy statue, by Tracy Turner.

Oliver, Young Performers Theater, Spring 2017

For this one I built the set, and did acres of decorative painting.

Re-blogged from Historic Preservation Sitka

The above photo was taken October 23 2019, and is of the back side (West) of Stevenson Hall (1911), one of a suite of buildings forming the campus quadrangle of the Sheldon Jackson School National Historic Landmark. The contractor has gutted the building, and is preparing to build a two-story addition, of about 20 feet square, that would copy the jerkin-head gable roof.

The small addition on the right, built in the 1920s, will be rebuilt with a balcony for a roof. The design of the addition, the balcony, and a new bay window on the north side are a loss of the original architecture on the North and West facades, but were approved with the idea that they will be mostly out of sight from the primary, East facade and the Sheldon Jackson quadrangle.

Sitka Summer Music Festival’s Plans for Stevenson Hall

The Sitka Summer Music Festival is rehabilitating Stevenson Hall, on the Sheldon Jackson School National Historic Landmark, as a year-round center for the arts. This $4.2 million project is a fabulous thing for our community.

The Festival’s architectural plans call for adding a two-story addition, a balcony, and a bay window “bump-out,” and for completely gutting and replacing the interior. These changes have been approved by the State Historic Preservation Office.

What’s the problem? The Festival’s plans also call for replacement of all the building’s windows, with Andersen A-Series new-construction windows.

(See the Documents page for information and references on replacing and restoring wood windows.)

There are two big problems with this: one is that these are new-construction windows, that mount from the exterior with a flange, and so require replacement of all the trim with something different, and also require adding framing in the walls. They have fake dividers, and the exterior is “clad” with fiberglass and vinyl. So they would never look right, and neither could the trim; the building would look different from the others on the quad. That’s not good. (Another issue is the longevity of replacement windows, in particular of the insulated glass. They do not last more than a few decades then must be replaced again.)

However, the main problem with window replacement is that this is a National Historic Landmark; even if it weren’t, the history and aesthetics of this place are important to Sitka. Unlike a regular construction project, what is done on this building has an impact on the entire community, even our economy, and so planning has to include historical considerations. The Sitka Summer Music Festival has the stewardship responsibility, to the community, and to future generations, to preserve the historic qualities of this structure. In addition, this property has mandatory plat notes, and, until October 2019, a covenant, both of which require work on the building follow the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.

The good news is, it isn’t hard to do! In fact, taking history into consideration is fun, learning about, and from, the craftsmanship of master builders from a hundred years ago, doing the research, consultation, and problem solving. Experts at the Park Service and the State Office of History and Archaeology have deep expertise and can connect the Festival with similar projects around the country. It just takes a willingness, and interest in those qualities. Being open to new ideas (instead of relying on conventional methods) can also save a great deal of money.

The Standards are common-sense guidelines for working on historic properties. The basic concept is to first identify the important features of the building, then plan work to preserve those features as much as possible. It is not at all difficult; it just takes good planning.

There are four Standards. The most commonly applied are those for Rehabilitation, which are for when you are updating a building for a new use.

The field of historic preservation is constantly developing, and the techniques, products and services available today mean quality preservation can also be cost-effective and efficient. You can completely modernize a building, and retain its historic integrity, too, and you can do it at less cost than a conventional renovation.

The main “character-defining features” have been identified for Stevenson Hall, in a 2004 Historic Preservation Plan, and the windows are the most important feature. The Standards call for preservation of historic materials. When a part is too damaged to save, it should be replaced in kind – with something that looks like, and as much as possible is like, the original.

Replacing windows on this particular building does not comply with the Standards, because they are important, and repairable.

Restoration (to new condition, with any damaged wood replaced with new wood, clear finish on the interior, and metal weatherstripping) is estimated by one company in Seattle at about $1300 each for the largest windows. (Windows could be shipped south in a shipping container). Interior storm windows cost only a few hundred, even for ones that open. This is much less than even the Andersen windows, which are $2300 each, just for the window before installation. The money saved by restoring instead of replacing is more than enough for shipping, storm windows, and any needed repairs to window jambs. There are 46 windows in the original Stevenson Hall. The math alone is a compelling case for restoration.

With today’s preservation technology, professionally restored windows with interior storm windows (and there are models that open) are as energy efficient as, and acoustically superior to, replacement windows. Restored wood windows also outlast insulated glass replacement windows – whether of wood, fiberglass, or vinyl. (See main post for details.)

The other buildings on the Sheldon Jackson National Historic Landmark are being preserved and windows have already been successfully restored. None of the windows has required replacement.

Replacement, even with something that looks right, is a last resort and in this case it is not necessary. Restoration is practical and cost-effective.

As part of a federal grant to the Festival in 2014, a covenant on the property requires that plans be approved by the Alaska State Historic Preservation Office. In January 2019 the SHPO officially approved the Festival’s plans – other than the window replacement.

Since January 2019, the Sitka Summer Music Festival has had some correspondence with the SHPO, and met with the State Historic Preservation Officer and the National Park Service Senior Historic Architect when they came to Sitka for this in July, but have so far not been open to discussing alternatives to replacing windows.

In late August 2019, the Festival board president wrote a letter to the State Historic Preservation Office proposing, instead of Andersen A-Series , a different kind of new-construction replacement windows, Kolbe Tradition Heritage. While these are wood, and look good, they have the same problems as the Andersen, in installing from the outside; these come with their own trim, attached at the factory, which means they could not work on Stevenson Hall, with its unique, complex trim.

They are substantially more expensive, and have less longevity than the Andersen windows: the ten year warranty, with only five years on the glass, is half that for the Andersen windows. Working parts (the slides on the sides of the sash) are plastic. Like other replacement windows, they would have to be replaced within a few decades at most.

The State Historic Preservation Office replied on September 6th, reiterating the Standards and asking for technical information that would justify replacing the windows. As of January 29 2020, the Festival had not responded.

Sitka Summer Music Festival Public Presentation October 13

On October 13, the Festival held a public presentation, and their Project Manager committed to, if they replace windows, installing wood, true-divided lite windows in such a way that the original trim can be reinstalled. This is a huge step in the right direction, although it still assumes replacement. What is still lacking is research into the facts and figures of restoration.

Holding a public presentation and discussion was itself a major step forward. A lack of communication is never good. The Festival’s Project Manager had a slide show of their general plans, and there was discussion of window options by the audience, board members and the project manager.

The Project Manager stated that they would reuse most of the board-and-batten siding, which is more good news. (They are also replacing missing decorative corbels, and restoring an interior stairway to its original configuration.)

Also positive was the Project Manager’s statement that they will reuse the original window trim. This is one of the big problems with replacement with new-construction windows such as Andersen; they way they install, from the exterior, means the original trim has to be scrapped because it won’t fit any more.

The Project Manager stated that he has experience installing windows within the wall, to get the correct depth (instead of mounting windows in the usual way for new construction windows, with a flange so they are flush with the exterior).

So if windows are replaced, the Project Manager stated that they would be like the originals – true divided lite, wood, installed in the same place in the wall so that the original trim can be reused.

Interestingly, this puts the Festival back where they were some years ago: the choice was between professional restoration of the original windows and adding interior glazing; or, replacing with windows that would install and look nearly the same.

A replacement window like this is going to be expensive, in the neighborhood of $3000-$4000 each. The Festival had a professional cost estimate at both the 35% and the 65% phase, which apparently did compare the costs of restoration vs. replacement with windows as close to in-kind as possible. The original windows are not in bad shape and many have already been restored on other buildings on campus, including all of Allen Hall. This is why, three years ago, the architect recommended restoration. (The architect left the project in May 2019; the Festival has a different architect now.)

There is also the problem of sourcing replacement windows that would work on Stevenson Hall, because the trim is unique and unconventional (see below for photos). The Kolbe windows specified in the Festival’s August letter can’t be installed using trim made on site. The trim on those windows is attached at the factory, and is how they install (instead of using a mounting flange like most new-construction windows). It is possible that Kolbe can make a custom window that would allow using Stevenson Hall’s unique trim, or perhaps this is a product that some other company makes.

The main thing, of course, before deciding to replace windows, is first to investigate whether and how the originals can be retained.

One thing that was concerning in the presentation were the statements made that replacement windows are cheaper, better, and longer lasting than restoration, statements that are simply not supported by facts, even though it is easy to look up this information. This included the claim, that even though the cost to restore windows would be about $1300, that the cost would be over $4000 each, a figure not supported by the professional cost estimates done earlier, nor by construction practice.

It is critically important that questions like – how much does restoration cost – how long does a professionally restored window last compared to a new wood window – whether these windows can be restored – what are the acoustics of double pane glass vs. single pane with interior storms – can and should be settled in fact. This critical decision – whether to restore or replace windows – must be based on facts, not assumptions or opinions.

Making a decision on a project of any size without basing it on verifiable information is unwise, to say the least, even if we weren’t talking about tens even hundreds of thousands of dollars, and a National Historic Landmark, and a decision that will have an impact on generations to come.

A logical place to start is for the Sitka Summer Music Festival to talk to a window restoration company, and to ask the National Park Service for other organizations who have restored windows and talk to them about their experiences. They could even send pictures of some windows to a restoration business to get a professional opinion on what it would take and what it would cost.

One other positive step is that the Project Manager stated that the Festival architect is working on drawings for the State Historic Preservation Office, even though the Covenant expired in early October.

These drawings of how windows would be installed would presumably include finding a source for a new window that would work on this building, pricing, and taking a critical look at durability. Why not task the architect or another professional with looking into the practicalities and costs of restoration, as well?

Another useful piece of information for the Festival to have is to get an engineer to determine what would be the cost differential in operating (heating) costs of restored, weather-stripped windows with storm windows, vs. restored originals with no storms, vs. replacement. The Festival plans include a highly efficient, state-of-the-art heat pump system, full mechanical ventilation, insulated walls, and full air sealing. In fact, weather-stripped single-strength glass might be all that is needed.

If acoustics are the overriding concern, there are interior storm windows made for this purpose. Any storm window outperforms double-pane glass because of the physics of sound.

One audience member told about how at Colonial Williamsburg buildings have their original windows, no storm windows, and no visible air handling equipment, and yet have museum-quality climate control. The weather when she visited was extremely hot and humid outdoors, but comfortable inside these 200-year-old buildings.

The Project Manager stated that the climate on the East Coast made it possible to achieve climate control but that it would not be possible in our climate. This would be interesting to investigate, as our climate is milder year-round, without the extremes of heat and cold, and it doesn’t make sense that this would not be possible here.

Fundamental to the Festival’s decision making is to have a professional cost estimate of the two options, for replacement (as near in-kind as possible) vs. restoration. This should include life cycle costs – how long the two options last and the price for replacement, and the differential in operational costs. When you are talking tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars, that piece of professional consulting is a critical investment.

The other thing that was concerning in the October 13th meeting was the project manager’s statement that the Festival’s plans are in compliance with the plat notes. This is not true. Even if the organization believes that the plat notes are not enforceable, that is not the same thing as being in compliance. The important thing is to honor the intention, which is that work will use the Secretary’s Standards. The State Historic Preservation Office is the interpreter of the Standards, and that approval is still pending.

As several Sitkans stated at the meeting, the overriding issue is to be good stewards, which means using the Standards as a guiding document.

In committing to keeping siding and window trim, working with the SHPO, and researching what it would take to have new windows that look like the originals, and continuing to be engaged, the Sitka Summer Music Festival is moving in a good direction.

The steps still needed for the Festival to be good stewards of this historic property are to work to meet the spirit of the Standards, and to research the how and what of restoring windows – to base this decision on facts and best practices in historic preservation. We all want the same thing, which is a historic, efficient, comfortable, accessible home for the arts. We all should be working together, with data and collective good intent.

Other Notes

It’s hard to know what the objections are to restoring windows, but it seems to rely on inaccurate assumptions about what historic preservation is. This is not unusual. Basically, historic rehabilitation is the same as any other building renovation, having the goal of an efficient, comfortable, low maintenance building. The only difference is that when you have a historic building, you first identify what it is that makes that building historic – the character-defining features – then carefully plan the work to retain those features as much as possible.

It does not mean leaving things rotten or drafty! Historic preservation science and technology has advanced quite a bit in recent decades, with increased interest in it for economic, environmental and aesthetic reasons. Saving wood windows has gone mainstream, with articles in popular magazines, including Forbes and Fine Home Building. Historic preservation is absolutely compatible with modern comfort and efficiency, but many people don’t know that. This is part of why this blog exists, to spread knowledge about what it is and the benefits, and how you can even save money with this approach.

See main post for details on the importance of the windows to the architecture. In addition, this building is one of a matching suite, and has a twin across the quad. Those other buildings are being restored.

Having Stevenson Hall lose its distinctive appearance and historic integrity would be unfortunate, permanent, and obvious, an unfortunate legacy indeed.

In addition, modern preservation science, products and services mean that restoration and adding interior storm windows have the same benefits, and more longevity and less cost, than replacement.

This is a big, prominent project. By acknowledging the stewardship responsibility that comes with owning a National Historic Landmark, reaching out to and working with historic preservation professionals and the local community, this will be a project everyone can be proud of.

The Sitka Summer Music Festival has not yet (as of late October) responded to the State Historic Preservation Office since late August. The covenant on the property expired on October 6th. The State Historic Preservation Officer sent a letter Friday October 4.

2020 Outer Coast Calendar

The 2020 Outer Coast Calendar is available from www.theoutercoast.com, or buy in stores in Sitka, or bookstores in Alaska and a few select places in the North West – including Powells Books in Portland and Elliott Bay Books in Seattle.

I’ll also be at the Alaska Juneau Public Market on Thanksgiving weekend 2019 and at the Sitka Artisans Market December 6-8. I’ll also have original wood engraving prints and notecards, which are also available on the website.

Calendars are printed in color on heavy, vellum-surface Natural colored paper by Alaska Litho in Juneau, Alaska U.S.A.

This calendar features my original art, poetry by Alaskans and other greats, gardening reminders for southeastern Alaska, and wilderness anniversaries. It opens out to 11 x 17 inches (8 1/2 by 11 closed), has a handy hole for hanging, and, has complete year of 2021 on the last page. The price is $15 but there are discounts starting at two.

This year’s calendar is built around the theme of Friends.

Poetry includes lines from Walt Whitman and William Shakespeare.

This calendar also features work by Alaska writer John Straley, novelist and poet, and some beautiful, inspiring work by Caroline Goodwin.

Below are the images from the 2020 calendar:

Cover 2019

The 2019 Outer Coast calendar is available from www.theoutercoast.com, or buy in stores in Sitka, or bookstores in Alaska and a few select places in the North West – including Powells Books in Portland and Elliott Bay Books in Seattle.

I’ll also be at WhaleFest in Sitka November 2-4, at the Alaska Juneau Public Market on Thanksgiving weekend, and at the Sitka Artisans Market December 7-9. I’ll also have original wood engraving prints and notecards, which are also available on the website.

Calendars are printed in color on heavy, vellum-surface Natural colored paper by Alaska Litho in Juneau, Alaska U.S.A.

This calendar features my original art, poetry by Alaskans and other greats, gardening reminders for southeastern Alaska, and wilderness anniversaries. It opens out to 11 x 17 inches (8 1/2 by 11 closed), has a handy hole for hanging, and, has complete year of 2019 on the last page. The price is $15 but there are discounts starting at two.

This year’s calendar is built around the theme of imperfection – nobody’s perfect, and that’s ok.

Poetry includes lines from William Wordsworth, Shakespeare, and Beat poet Lew Welch (1926-1971).

This calendar also features work by John Straley, novelist and poet, and some beautiful, inspiring work by Caroline Goodwin.

Below are the images from the 2019 calendar:December2019February2019January2020July2019 (2)June2019March2019May2019November2019October2019September2019image only

 

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In 2018 I got to teach at the Sitka Fine Arts Camp Elementary School session. The camp groups students by age and rotates four sections of each age group through four different classes, in music, theater, visual art, and dance.

This year I had the 5th grade group, kids going into 6th grade, who came in for I think around 50 minutes each. Each group had around a dozen kids, and we had to set up, work, and clean up in that time before the next group came in. The camp was one week, so five mornings total.

The cleaning up is an important part of the process – young people actually like knowing what’s going on and they actually like cleaning up, especially sponging off the tables.

The first day I gave them watercolors, and had them try various techniques, with nice watercolor paints (they are Cotman travel sets, and over the years we have replaced the paint as it was used up with Daniel Smith watercolors) on 80# drawing paper. First we looked at some slides of the work of Helen Frankenthaler and Vasili Kandinsky, and told a little about those artists and periods.

Tuesday, we did observational drawing, of a wooden stool, doing fast draw, blind contour, then a longer drawing, then, if they had time, a smaller object of their choice. In this one I showed them basic drawing tricks, using angles, proportions, overlap, scale, and the trick of using the back ground, and the angles of the box the stool was on, to give their drawing depth.

Wednesday we drew the counselor, with the same drawing instruction, with the addition of learning to show the model respect.

Thursday we drew a still life of at least two objects, on the table near them. We didn’t do any warmups, but instead sketched on newsprint, then drew with pencil and outlined with pen or drew with a pen, then watercolor, on 80# drawing paper, using the various watercolor techniques from Monday.

On Friday, I set up lights and pushed the tables together, with the lights at one end, and kids sitting on the long sides of the tables. They did a quick draw then shaded (modeled) drawing of white styrofoam balls. Then, had them gather all their art, and put their favorite piece on top, and we did a little art walk, where each said something they liked about (someone else’s) picture.

One more thing was to have each kid at the end of each session put his or her work in a stack. I didn’t have any drying racks, so we arranged the stacks of pictures all around the edges of the room on the floor.

This is a review of The Organized Mind, by Daniel J. Levitin.

The problem with this book is that the author has an extremely limited and mechanistic notion of how our minds work.

You assume that this book will help you to deal with the complexity and volume of information, stimuli, expectations, tasks that can feel overwhelming, but it is actually more like a collection of magazine articles on how to organize information, and not how to “organize” your mind in any way to limit, or set priorities on the amount of “information” you should be organizing in the first place.

The problem is that our minds do not simply process information, like computers. We are social creatures, we are cultural creatures, we have highly sensitive psychological and emotional processing, and this book leaves all that out.

If we are feeling overwhelmed by information, the solution is not more information, on how to categorize it.

The only useful thing in this book are his tips (which are straight from airport how-to-organize books), which boil down to, write things down and organize your home and office so you can find things easily. The one thing I found useful is how switching from one task to another, or making decisions on what to keep and what to throw away, takes a lot of mental effort, so it’s better to keep on one task at at time.

Some of his tips are goofy – like, in the last chapter, the numbering system for interstate highways, such as “One- and two-digit highway numbers less than 100 identify major routes that cross state lines,” that will supposedly help you navigate (p 371).

He also devotes quite a bit of space to reasoning errors, where we make decisions that seem rational but are actually based on a misperception of the facts, all of which I’ve read elsewhere. He also has a lot of household organizing tips that are not going to be worthwhile for most people, and are found in books on organizing your home or office, if that’s what you want.

Because this book was written when it was, the issue of electronic information is huge. There is no way to deal with all the information we are confronted with now. You have to step back and think about how to limit it, without letting others limit it for you – as he does, when he enthuses about Reddit.

His understanding is demonstrated in his description of the rise of civilization, stating that all humans did was “procreate and survive” until 10,000 years ago, and that literature arose from accounting (p 13), because writing did. Literature is much older, from ancient oral traditions that are essential to our humanity. To me, this is the interesting question: before writing, for most of human time, we kept all we needed in our minds. So, why not look to art, to literature, to non-literate cultures? To truly “organize our minds.”

Another mistake is when he states that new knowledge can stave off Alzheimer’s disease (p 19). No, not new information – new ways of thinking, new kinds of activities. Learning more facts in some area you are already familiar with does nothing, you have to learn a whole new thing, like ping pong or music or social dancing.

He does touch on the human element in how we think, but barely, and it is not coherent. We function well when we feel like we matter, that we have some control over our lives, that others think highly of us. So human relationships and leadership that empowers members of the group are more critical than your filing system, but he calls this “communications (and) competent and ethically-based authority,” as if it’s one more system for organizing a company or the Army; even though his examples of success actually involve giving authority and autonomy to those at lower levels.

I compulsively read this entire book, because it was intriguing to me how he talks about “the organized mind” as if it is simply information management. This is not the only author I’ve read with this limited approach to success. It’s been helpful to me to define what it is that’s missing in this approach, to define what it is that really is at play, in people or organizations that function well. I believe those elements are going to be defined through the exposition of more and more subtle and sophisticated cognitive science, coming full circle to what great artists and leaders have understood and communicated since humans became human.