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Boyce's Book Breaks Down Berea's Buildings

Dr. Robert Boyce, Berea College Professor of Art, recently had a book published in honor of Bereaís sesquicentennial.

Dr. Robert Boyce

The book, Building a College, An Architectural History of Berea College, takes an up-close look at the history of the collegeís buildings since its founding in 1855. The book includes photographs illustrating the history of design, construction and use of college facilities over 150 years.

Dr. Boyceís book, several years in the making, is available for purchase at the Berea College Bookstore.

BCnow spoke to Dr. Boyce about his book and his experience in authoring it.

BCnow: Why did you decide to compile the book?

Boyce: When I came to campus and was hired by Willis Weatherford in 1981, sometime in 1983 he asked if I would consider writing a history of the Collegeís architecture. As an architectural historian and one interested in this architecture, I said yes, but I had a dissertation to finish writing and I had a book already in the works, so such College research would have to come later.

Then Shannon Wilson, found in the archives, a survey map of the Berea College campus created by the Olmstead Associates. The present administration had no idea that we had any connection with Olmstead out of Boston. That contact occurred because in 1904, with the Day Law, Bereaís Board of Trustees decided to build another campus, the Lincoln Institute. The Olmsteads were working in Louisville at the time. It was kind of logical to ask the Associates to come to a site about fifteen or twenty miles out of Louisville, to survey it and propose a landscape for the Lincoln Institute. That map discovery served as a kick in the pants.

I put up an exhibition in 1993 at the Traylor Art Building, and with that exhibition I decided this was a topic I really needed to work on; I had finished the dissertation, been granted tenure and had a book under my belt. I kind of promised myself that during the summer months, when I supposedly had less involvement in the campus, Iíd work on the book. It took me 13 years to complete the book.

BCnow: That was going to be my next question, how long did it take you to complete, and it seems like it was the better part of 25 years.

Boyce: There were numbers of summers where, though I didnít have teaching responsibilities, we had construction projects going on; someone had to be present at the art building summer after summer. One colleague said sheíd worked here for six years and for the past five weíve been involved with construction on the art building. And weíre doing it again this summer.

BCnow: What has the process been like? Has it been rewarding, how have you felt about the project as it has gone along?

Boyce: Weíre fortunate on this campus to actually have an archive. Itís an archive that is not only personal to the campus, but itís also an archive for government papers as well as various other regional schools. Because materials were to some extent relatively available, there were lots of buildings on which virtually nothing has been recorded. In some instances I could find no photographs of buildings that are on the Olmsted diagrams and maps, interesting lapses occurred, oftentimes cost was hidden. That was sometimes difficult to ferret out. I used diaries, I used letters, and I used Board of Trusteesí minutes and Presidentís correspondences. An enormous archive of Olmsted materials is still in Boston; their archive is also at the National Library in Washington, D.C. In time I went to both those locations to find illustrations of materials from about 1914-15 to about 1920. So, considerable numbers of papers could be found elsewhere than just on our campus.

I guess part of the joy Ė as an historian Ė was finding the information; I prefer in some ways to do the research, not the writing. So in that sense I guess thatís the fun part of pulling together materials, itís the finding of materials, the research.

BCnow: How has the reaction to the book been?

Boyce: I would say itís been very positive. Numbers of people have given me new facts and information; others have commented on how handy the text and illustrations have been for finding information. Itís been positive.

BCnow: Now that you have the finished product in your hand Ė almost 25 years of work Ė how do you feel?

Boyce: Itís kind of joyous. In some ways itís been a self imposed responsibility that Iíve always known was there, but never could find the time to complete; thereís been some frustration in finding blocks of time to work on the project. However, it has been a worthwhile project for me and I think ultimately will be a critical piece of material for the campus. Since this has been our Collegeís Sesquicentennial and Iíve been on sabbatical, I now had that block of time I needed to complete the manuscript and pull the illustrations together. And so it is completed!

BCnow: You mentioned President Weatherford Ė and when he spoke to you in í82 Ė did he spark your interest in Bereaís architecture, or were you interested before that?

Boyce: I would say I was interested before that. As an architectural historian my interests related to the American depression era; quantities of our buildings were built during the 1930s--the Hutchins administration. A number of critically important buildings were built during the Frost administration and even the Fairchild administration. But when you look around campus, I would say the core of our buildings were actually built during the Ď30s.

The Board of Trustees made a decision that our campus would be Georgian in style. When you look around campus, virtually all our buildings Ė Fairchild, Lincoln, Edwards Ė are not that, but those were also of the earlier administration. But from the 1920s on, there is a consistency that has made it the handsome campus it actually is.

During the latter part of the Weatherford administration some International Style buildings were constructed---the Industrial Arts Building, Dana, the Alumni Building and ultimately the Art Building Ė at least sections of it. There are style variations that have begun to appear on campus. My interest as an architectural historian has always been there; thus, I was the logical person to be working on such a topic.

BCnow: Is the book set up chronologically or alphabetically by building?

Boyce: Because of the Olmsted involvement, the question of how you lay out a town and a campus, and the way the campus politics related to those questions, I decided I had to have a relatively lengthy introduction. In some ways I ďlay out the scene, the campusĒ in something like 25-28 pages and then the most logical seemed to be to approach buildings in an alphabetical way. I felt that individual readers wouldnít know the dates. So if I laid it out chronologically people would miss buildings; ultimately I decided to arrange it as an alphabetical text.

What has happened often, however, is that buildings have changed names. When I found buildings that had two or three names I tried to use the most contemporary name, and then list those that have historically been used with the structures. At the end of the text I have an appendix that sets up the buildings in a chronological order related to administrations. Youíll see a great building boom that occurs with some Presidents, less with others.

The interesting thing is that the College now has an endowment that makes it possible to renovate buildings; thus, at the latter part of the book youíll see during the Shinn administration few buildings were built, but great numbers of buildings have been restored, making them more contemporarily useful.

BCnow: In your lifetime what has Berea College and its buildings meant to you personally?

Boyce: Iím interested in the history of architecture as how it evolves.

Having been on campus from í62-í66 as an undergraduate and having had a parent who was here from í35-í39 and his parent during the first World War time frame in the womenís program so in some ways there is a family connection that has gone back for a hundred years, which is kind of amazing!

But Iíve been interested that we have clung as exclusively to the Georgian as we have. Watching the renovations that have occurred in Georgian sites Ė Williamsburg, William and Mary Ė places of the type that ultimately had an enormous impact on us, and then in the 1930s to see the movement in American for this colonial revival Ė we step back to what we perceive as better years and better times Ė and for Berea College in some ways weíve also done that. And I guess itís watching that Georgian building that was a Tidewater plantation house now become an art building, now become a classroom building, now become a presidentís home, now become a dormitory; I think itís an interesting use of an architectural vocabulary in ways that historically it wasnít. But thatís been the nature of revivalism in America and ultimately Berea bit into that and accepted that as well.

Itís been a joy -- especially to work in a modern building as the Traylor art building is concerned. My office happens to be in the ďart houseĒ, which is a Georgian plantation house, but then I walk a hundred feet and Iím in a very modern building with glass. The architects for that structure incorporated the colonial and the Georgian and made it a more contemporary and modern structure. Iíve been curious to watch how columns and window treatments have been handled so that in some ways we remain a Georgian campus but with some variations to that theme.

The joy of a functional building is critical. Itís been interesting to watch the renovations of Woods-Penn, the renovations of James and the renovations of Kentucky-Talcott, and the amazing treatment has been the space between Kentucky and Talcott. Thatís a very post-modern and contemporary approach that Iím very pleased to see. I find the glassed in solarium thatís a part of the industrial buildings Ė Bruce-Trades Ė that intrigues me. The joy for me is watching how we manipulate architecture and ultimately how we live with it, how we make it functional.

BCnow: You mentioned that you were working on a book when Weatherford spoke to you, how many books have you had published?

Boyce: This is the second one. The first book was called Keck and Keck, and they were active individuals, in fact probably the originator of passive solar architecture in the United States. I again was very fortunate that their archive had been placed at the State Historical Society in Madison, Wisconsin. It was available to me; and then to have the finest photographers working for their office with those photographs available to me made that research and publication what it became. Thatís been one of the interesting things about this text, finding archival photographs.

Many of those archival photographs in the Berea archives arenít labeled. So itís been a process of guesstimate Ė is that this building or that building? And most of those have tended to be the houses. The houses sometimes first appeared on Center Street and then were moved to Richmond Highway. Or they were on Richmond Highway and they were moved to Estill Street. Itís been an interesting process of the use of buildings. I found one photograph in the Berea archives that shows the process of moving a building down Chestnut Street. The moving process was stopped in front of Lincoln Hall; hereís the whole street blocked by a building! That photograph was too unique especially since I talk about the moving of houses.

BCnow: Any other books that youíre thinking about putting together, or is this it for a while?

Boyce: Having used the archives, and finding holes of College history, some departmental histories need to be recorded. We need to create some oral histories and pull together lots of paperwork. The college used to require all department chairs to write a yearís-end report; those are historical documents that kind of say ďthis is what happened,Ē and theyíre available to see the progression of departments. Berea has been a very stable institution.

The movement of peoples from campus or onto campus has not been rapid. However, there are people still in this community that need to be interviewed; we ought not to lose that information. Weíve got papers on departments but we still have persons that have been on campus for 40, 50, even 60 years and can give us an oral history. If thatís a topic that I can play with in the next years, then thatís where my interests lay. But whether that gets published or whether thatís a document that ultimately becomes an in-house document, Iím not sure.

I was very fortunate to have the Berea Press produce this for me. Linda Kuhlmann at our press did a magnificent job of arranging and Iím most appreciative of the support that the campus has given for the text.

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