Last night after Wheel of Fortune, they showed some pictures of Grand Central Station in New York City. That place is gorgeous – I can still remember the first I saw it and was in awe. After the little excerpt, it got me thinking about all the workers who constructed those places. Back then, in 1913, there were construction workers, but there were also many artisans, people (men) who treated their trade as artists. I’m referring to those who put up those intricate ceilings and plastered designs onto walls. They worked with their craft as an artist or sculptor does, and the results are majestic.
If you’ve ever visited or seen pictures of the grand architecture of the late 1890s and early 1900s, you’ve undoubtedly seen examples of such craftsmanship. While we may not condone the elaborate lifestyles of those affluent families, we must recognize the details of the workers who decorated the buildings. Whenever I visit Newport, RI, I love to see those summer homes of the rich and famous. I look at the minute intricacies of each room. The soaring ceilings often hold paintings or molding that is no longer in existence. Sometimes, the artists were brought to the US from other countries where their work was known. These rooms took months to complete, and the workers took pride in their masterpieces.
I’ve only had the occasion to meet similar workers twice. When we first moved into this house many moons ago, we wanted to change the locks. We knew the house was old, but the borough records only go back to 1920. Anything built before then was just recorded as 1920. This house has many designs that were popular at the turn of the last century. When the locksmith came, he was a very old gentleman, but he knew his craft. Our front door is very unique, and the lock was quite old. As the man worked, he told me he remembered this house being built when he was a young boy. It was the only house on the unpaved street, and the builder designed it for himself. He said that the original structure expanded and artistic details were added. He even showed me how old the lock was, and he praised the workmanship. He carefully worked the new lock into the door, while preserving the old-fashioned detail.
When we put the addition on the house, we strived to have it blend in with the old. Interiorly, that meant keeping the same woodwork. The general contractor searched for someone who still made these large moldings around doorways, and finally found a husband and son team. These two studied all the moldings and decided they must create their own from scratch. They measured the large piece of wood and then found existing moldings to replicate the original. They were able to copy it exactly. I so enjoyed watching them work as they took such pride in each step.
I’m sure that such artisans still exist, but nowadays most new construction doesn’t include such fine details. My daughter found a company that still makes old-fashioned woodwork, and they were hired to do columns and wainscoting in their home. But the real artists are probably long gone.