Maybe Marriage?

Last week’s Wildenhain Blog noted a proposal for a fast food restaurant to build on Frans Wildenhain’s homestead as a way to discuss historical preservation.

As expressed at the end of that entry: whatever one’s precise position on this structure or some other example, the matter of (historical) preservation insists that proponents and opponents alike articulate response to the question: preservation for what?

More than 20 years ago, I organized a series of international conferences on moving image preservation, access and use. Named “Fast Rewind: The Archaeology of Moving Images,” the conferences afforded archivists, historians, preservationists and conservationists, and professionals with affiliated interests to gather and discuss problems associated with motion picture and videotape preservation.

Each conference, held in downtown Rochester, NY, generated considerable enthusiasm. Well beyond what I had expected, in fact. For each of the three events (and this is circa 1987-91), there were more than 150 paid registrations with people from as far away as Europe, though the great majority was from the U.S.

One reason for Fast Rewind’s significance – and, presumably, the event’s appeal – was that more than half of all the movies made before 1930 were “lost”; treated as a disposable commodity by their manufacturers, distributors and retailers (theaters), the cultural heritage embodied by the silent movies had simply been erased due to neglect.

A recently published book on movie still photography, by the way, places the percentage of “lost” silent films at 80 percent.

But note the conference’s full purpose: preservation, access and USE. Fast Rewind demanded that conferees discuss, explain and understand what it is they would DO with the (yet-to-be) preserved and accessible celluloid.

Who would benefit? For which reasons? And for what purposes, serving whose interests?

Run the preservation flag up the pole and one can be certain several will salute. Attaching explanatory notes to the flag broadens its appeal, enhances its significance, deepens its persuasiveness and encourages more saluting.

Shortly after Frans’s death, came a modest-sized “movement” to declare his home – originally Mrs. Selden’s chicken coop – a historic site. Letters (now in a private collection) of support arrived from well-placed individuals at such prestigious institutions as Syracuse University, the Smithsonian and the Everson Museum, as well as well-known craftspeople.

Eventually, though, interest waned. And later, after the property was sold (to the current owner), the house was demolished.

The portal noted in last week’s Blog is all that remains.

Next week, a case study of a Rochester, NY building of historical, architectural and educational significance.

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