From the Director’s Chair: Fall For Stickley, Part 2

by Vonda K. Givens, Executive Director

(Part 1: https://www.stickleymuseum.org/from-the-directors-chair/).

Tropical Storm Isiais swept through Craftsman Farms in the early afternoon on August 4 and brought irreparable destruction to the Annex. Connected by a corridor to the Log House (the Stickley family home), the Annex (at left, pre-storm) was designed by Stickley as an open-air pavilion. Second owners of the property, the Farny family, enclosed the pavilion and then it was rehabilitated in 2009 by the museum as an educational program space. During the storm, a massive uprooted tree landed on the Annex and brought down the electrical lines with it. The structure suffered additional severe damage after the sprinkler system, engaged by the downed lines, gushed water into the building. In the span of little more than an hour, Craftsman Farms was forever changed.

The storm itself was a harrowing experience, but looking at the destruction in its aftermath, was equally unsettling. Until that day, I had not realized how much solace I had found in Craftsman Farms in recent months. As the reality of a global pandemic had unfolded, the pastoral property had become a reassuring oasis. The storm was a jarring reminder of how quickly circumstances can change and how rapidly nature can shift from tranquil to threatening.

On the night of the storm, when I walked the perimeter of the Annex on a fire watch at 2:00 a.m., the darkness was thick. Though the walk was familiar, with power outages across the area, the familiar now took on an ominous edge. As I forged ahead with my flashlight, I noticed the scent of pine needles in the air—many of the evergreens behind the new Education Center had lost branches during the storm—and as I breathed in that pleasant scent, I realized I was experiencing a pleasant sound too—the chirp of crickets. Surrounding me was the comforting song of crickets, and as I neared the pond, the frogs joined in with them. It struck me then that circumstances had shifted once again—cycling from threatening back to tranquil. Here was the Craftsman Farms oasis I had come to know so well. Though I already knew that, with the help of insurance funds, we would rebuild the Annex, this moment provided my first real glimmer of hope that things would be okay.

Even in the midst of this year’s most distressing events, I have experienced Craftsman Farms as a refuge. These experiences have given me a more visceral understanding of its fragility. Historic properties are threatened by sudden destructive weather events, but they are equally threatened by gradual destruction—I think of it as a kind of slow erosion, which happens over time and can erase the distinct, authentic features that made an historic property worth saving in the first place. Stickley’s vision for Craftsman Farms—his “Garden of Eden”—was comprehensive and specific. Because of that, even seemingly minor preservation decisions can have major implications.

In the end, careful stewardship is at the heart of preserving a place like Craftsman Farms, which is at once an historic property, a museum, and a public park. Careful stewardship requires dedication, planning, and most of all resources. Gifts to the Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms provide the resources needed for the museum’s daily preservation activities and for long-term planning.

The cause of historic preservation can seem unimportant, or even frivolous, during troubled times, but I can’t think of a time when it has been more important. For Stickley, Craftsman Farms was to be many things—a showplace, a community, a manifestation of ideas and perhaps most importantly, a home. Today, in preserving it, I think of it as Stickley’s gift to future generations, transformed from his family home to a home for us all. In a time of uncertainty, it is a sanctuary. Its existence is affirming for us now, and in preserving it, we are ensuring it will have the same effect on future generations.

As we celebrate Stickley through the month of October, I hope you’ll be inspired to support our efforts to preserve this property and the legacy of Gustav Stickley. With summer giving way to autumn at Craftsman Farms, its most enchanting season, and the leaves taking on more color day by day, I know it’s easy to “fall for Stickley.” I hope you will think so too.

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