Sketching extends the brain

Yesterday we discussed in Diagnostics with Michael Henry the utility of sketching a conditions of a lighthouse. There is something weird about drawing with your hand that makes the recording so much tangible. It forces you to observe beyond seeing, to record beyond noticing. It is an active, not a passive learning activity.

I did just that this morning. I grabbed an old sketch book and a Muji pen, got on my bike, and went to the President’s House on Walnut Street to observe and sketch some Yellin gates fronting a Trumbauer-designed home. (Weirdly enough, the President’s House used to be the residence of Mr. Eisenlohr, a Gilded-Age tobacco magnet buried in West Laurel Hill, whose mausoleum I am doing a conditions survey for a Masonry conservation seminar!)

The gates on the other side of Walnut were far more exquisite. They were not a Yellin design, and they fronted a frat house! If architecture speaks to the aspirations of a society, well, this no doubt is a bummer.

What I observed was a regularly-decorated wrought-iron gate. The black coating covered the nooks and cracks. It makes me wonder if corrosion can travel through the network of the ironwork much like water is transported from the roots to the leaves of a tree. Suppose a 100 feet-long iron rod is covered in epoxy with the last inch left exposed to a marine environment. Would you see the expansion of the rod all the way to the end?

A scholar searching for a thesis topic is similar to an entrepreneur finding a problem for a startup to solve. It is a struggle to negotiate what we are interested in and what the world needs. Maybe I should redirect my attention to an alloy that has been used in monumental architecture but not studied enough. Besides Monell, what other is there?


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