This evening is a special one for Historic Trades & Skills of Colonial Williamsburg. Tonight, tradespeople who are usually seen by their colleagues in 18th-century attire (attire often marked with charcoal, dirt, or other evidence of the day’s work) will don 21st-century duds and gather for this year’s Annual Trades Dinner. The purpose? To recognize those who have completed their formal apprenticeship and are advancing to the status of journeymen, as well as a group of journeymen supervisors who have advanced to the prestigious title of master.
It goes without saying that these are significant accomplishments. Made even more significant by the fact that the recipients—indeed, all the tradespeople in the Historic Area—are not simply perfecting their skills and producing quality work. They are preserving (perhaps even saving) an important piece of our collective history, one that provides insight into daily life and technology in early America.
“Historic Trades is one of the iconic institutions of Colonial Williamsburg. For decades, our guests have been able to see the real work of the 18th-century practiced by shops of talented tradesmen,” said Executive Director of the Historic Area, Peter Seibert, who will be one of the Foundation’s senior leaders (alongside C.E.O. Mitchell Reiss and Vice-President of Education, Research, and Historical Interpretation, Ted Maris-Wolf) speaking at the event. “We are so proud of these journeymen and masters, as they truly represent the excellence of commitment to both their trade and guest services here in the Historic Area,” Seibert added. “From weavers to wigmakers, they are truly leaders of the Historic Trades.”
The individuals being honored at this dinner are not the self-congratulatory types, comfortable with “tooting their own horn.” So we’ve decided to toot that horn for them. Or rather, we’ve asked their colleagues to do it. Without further ado, here are our new journeymen and masters, with words of congratulations written by those who work alongside them every day.
Karen Clancy, Master Weaver
“You probably already know Karen Clancy, Master Weaver here at Colonial Williamsburg. That’s because Karen knows no stranger. In her 29 years at CW, she has held a number of different positions in a variety of departments including Historic Foodways, human resources, programs (she’s currently the Evening Programs Coordinator), and of course, as a weaver. Weaving and fiber arts had long been Karen’s favorite hobby, so she was nervous to make it her full-time job when she started as an apprentice. But, as she likes to tell guests, it became even more rewarding when she could devote more time and energy to it, and to educating the many people who visit the shop each day.
To move from apprentice to journeyman, Karen reverse-engineered and recreated an incredibly beautiful, yet complicated textile sample from the 18th century. With this and so many other projects, she set an example for others to follow. Not only with her aptitude for weaving and dyeing, but also with her work ethic and ability to deftly resolve problems. When you watch her work, it’s clear that being at the loom is second nature.
Best of all, Karen is a great colleague and mentor. She is quick to share her knowledge with others, be it other museums (she’s presented at events and textile symposiums in the United States and England), guests (it’s amazing how she can connect with anyone who walks into the shop), or new apprentices like me. Although I’m hardly the only person to benefit from her guidance; she passes on her passion to everyone in the shop, and makes her co-workers feel like family.
This is an important milestone for Karen, but she’s already achieved something we all strive for in the Historic Trades & Skills Department: the ability to find innovative ways to bring history to life, and the ability to inspire those around her.”
— Aubrey Moog, Apprentice Weaver
Jason Whitehead, Master Historic Masonry Trades
“Jason Whitehead (‘J.J.’ to his friends) has worked in the Brickyard for as long as anyone can remember, and the Brickyard’s role at Colonial Williamsburg has changed quite a bit during Jason’s tenure. He’s overseen a number of new programming initiatives that focus on fun, hands-on activities for families with young potential brickmakers, while still maintaining our mission to provide bricks and mortar for the ongoing restoration of the Historic Area.
As an interpreter, it doesn’t get better than Jason. His engaging style combines history and facts with plenty of humor, and it’s a big hit with guests—especially families. His easy-going demeanor and willingness to work closely with other trade shops on collaborative projects makes him a great colleague, as well. We’re known as a trade that doesn’t take ourselves too seriously, and we joke around a lot at the Brickyard. But in all seriousness, we’re very proud of Jason and this well-deserved accomplishment.”
— Josh Graml, Journeyman Historic Masonry Trades
Kaare Loftheim, Master Cabinetmaker
“Kaare Loftheim began in the Cabinet Shop as an interpreter in 1980 and rose through ranks from apprentice to journeyman supervisor and now master. During his long tenure, he has built numerous fine pieces of furniture that can be found throughout the Historic Area, in other museums, and in private collections. Yet, as impressive as this body of work is, completed furniture is only a small measure of Kaare’s achievement. For the past nineteen years, the Cabinet Shop has participated in the annual Working Wood in the 18th Century Conference, where Kaare has been a featured presenter almost every year. With the sudden passing of former Director of Historic Trades Jay Gaynor in 2014, Kaare–without prompting–assumed direction of the conference, effected a seamless transition in leadership, and has continued to run it successfully each year.
His enthusiasm for interpretation, whether to fellow furnituremakers at the conference or our daily visitors to the shop, is as boundless as it is inspirational. Long before he was promoted to master, Kaare dedicated himself to a leading role in the craft education of the shop’s apprentices, interns, junior interpreters, and volunteers. Indeed, dedication is certainly a concept embodied by Kaare Loftheim. This is well known by all who have worked with him over the years and is felt by visitors to Colonial Williamsburg. It is what has made his work so excellent: a dedication to craft and to the exploration of antique examples.
It is perhaps fitting that one of Kaare’s current projects is a heavily upholstered easy chair. He’s made plenty of chairs and done some upholstery work over the years, but at a point in his career when many people would wind down their professional lives, Kaare has decided to plough new ground and learn how to undertake the complex upholstery job himself. He models daily the deep curiosity and dedication that define the best of Historic Trades.”
— Francis “Bill” Pavlak, Journeyman Cabinetmaker
Ted Boscana, Master Joiner
“Master Joiner Ted Boscana has spent more than twenty years working for Colonial Williamsburg. He began that career at age 15, selling cookies at the Raleigh Tavern Bakery, before moving into the Historic Trades & Skills Department. Working and studying under Master Garland Wood in the Carpentry & Joinery Shop, he advanced from apprentice to journeyman in 2002.
To say that Ted’s career thus far has been remarkable would be an understatement. He successfully established the Joinery as a separate entity here at Colonial Williamsburg, and several of his pieces have been on display in major museums across the country. Most recently, the impressive recreation of an elliptical sash window for George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Perhaps bravest of all was his decision to take on three green apprentices less than a year ago.
It can be said with complete confidence that Ted is not only a great leader, but also a fantastic teacher. His hard work, passion, and humor sets the standard that we all strive to reach. Please join us in thanking Ted for his years of dedication, and congratulating him on this achievement. We are certain that this is not the end of an era, but just the beginning of the wonderful things to come in his career. Here’s to you, Ted!”
— Amanda Doggett, Peter Hudson, & Scott Krogh, Apprentice Joiners
Jennifer Mrva, Journeyman Gardener
“About four years ago, Don Mckelvey and I realized that we were both nearing retirement and had no heir apparent to carry on the work at the Colonial Garden. So we advertised for an intern. We had only one applicant, and that was Jennifer Mrva. I was a little discouraged to have such a small a pool to select from, but Jennifer was with us for only two weeks before Don came to me and said, ‘she just might be the one.’
Don retired the following spring, and Jennifer was brought on as a garden apprentice. It proved to be a brief apprenticeship as I retired just two years later, leaving her to manage the garden. I was always confident that Jennifer, with the help of Emily and many other members of the Department of Historic Trades would be able to not only continue, but improve the Garden program, and I am very happy to see her promotion to Journeyman Gardener.”
— Wesley Greene, Master Gardener (Retired)
Aislinn Lewis, Journeyman Blacksmith
“Aislinn Lewis developed an interest in the blacksmith’s trade as a teenager working at an historic house museum. Watching the smiths work captivated her imagination, and noticing that she was spending a lot of time as an observer, the smiths offered to let her try her hand at the work. At that point she was hooked.
Aislinn found an opportunity to pursue the trade, continuing her learning through the American College of the Building Arts in Charleston, South Carolina, where she studied under former Colonial Williamsburg blacksmith Jay Close, among others. Building Arts students serve internships each summer, and in her sophomore year I was contacted by Jay to see if we would have in interest in hosting her for as a summer intern. Jay knew what qualities Colonial Williamsburg sought, and said she was a strong candidate for the Anderson Shop program. Aislinn then served with us for two summers, and a third summer she was in Wisconsin working for a smith who also specializes in historic work. After graduating as the valedictorian of her class at ACBA, she joined the Anderson Shop.
In her years with the shop she has worked on a variety of projects, from forging hardware for the new Armoury to making hardware for a reproduction of one of George Washington’s camp beds for the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. Recently she has begun to mentor a high school youth who has joined the shop as a junior apprentice.
While Aislinn is not the first woman to work in the blacksmith program here at CW, she is the first to reach journeyman status. We congratulate her on her accomplishments and look forward to a long and productive career.”
— Ken Schwarz, Master Blacksmith & Senior Master of Historic Trades
Debbie Turpin, Journeyman Wigmaker
“Debbie Turpin joined Colonial Williamsburg some 16 years ago. She started her career leading tours for our School & Groups department, but soon set her sights higher. If there was ever an opening at the Wig Shop, she promised herself, she’d apply. When the opportunity presented itself, she followed through on that promise. It was clear from the beginning that her good-natured personality was perfect fit for the shop. We asked her during the interview if she had any experience with hair, and she jokingly replied, ‘does my Barbie count?’ After that interview, we knew she was the one for us.
Circumstance did not allow Debbie to ease gently into her first big project, either. Her first solo wig was for shoemaker Brett Walker, who, like most talented tradesmen, is a perfectionist. Although she was nervous, Debbie jumped in feet first and did a fantastic job. Her confidence and skill continued to grow on her next project, the Winchester Wig. This wig has the distinction of being the first period wig that we can document as being worn in Virginia that has survived, and once again, Debbie thrived. In 2013, she and I were able to travel to Denmark and Germany for research, and it was during this trip that she selected the wig she reproduced for her final apprenticeship project. I’m delighted to say that she succeeded once again, thereby earning her journeyman certificate and making it possible for me to write this tribute today.
Debbie has been, and continues to be a valued member of the Wig Shop. My fellow colleagues and I are so proud of her accomplishments, and look forward to seeing the exciting things she achieves as our newest journeyman.”
— Elizabeth “Betty” Myers, Master Wigmaker