Interview With Kaitlin O’shea (Preservation in Pink)

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Kaitlin O’shea

bhc interview new

Every column needs a mascot, logo or a slogan, something that stands out in the eyes of the readers and one that shows significance to the themes we cover in society.  The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles has logo with the beloved Fehmarn Bridge in Germany, and the slogan: Preserving our past for the future, bridge by bridge.  Its sister column, The Flensburg Files has a slogan the sailboat and the flags of Germany and the US symbolizing its topic on cultural affairs and current events affecting the two countries. For Preservation in Pink, their mascot is the flamingo. There is an interesting story behind this beloved animal, as will be explained by its creator Kaitlin O’shea.  A preservation consultant for a firm in Burlington in Vermont, Kaitlin has been running the online column for 10 years and it has expanded it coverage to include various forms of social media, with the goal of providing coverage on topics on preserving places of historic interests, including historic bridges. They include live examples of preserved artifacts, preservation practices and the like. Kaitlin is no stranger to preservation, as she  received her B.A. in Historic Preservation from the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, VA. and a Master of Science in the same field at the University of Vermont. In between, sheI worked for the Fort Bragg (North Carolina) Cultural Resources Program for the U.S. Army (Independent Contractor, not military), conducting a 3 year oral history project on a 10,000 former Rockefeller estate that abutted Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base, which included interviews, completed transcriptions, conducted archival research, and wrote the oral history book for the project. After obtaining her Master’s  Kaitlin  worked for the Vermont Agency of Transportation for 5 years, conducting historic preservation review of all projects. Since May 2015, she has worked as a Preservation Planner for VHB (an engineering + environmental firm) focusing on the regulatory side of preservation, except with state environmental laws.

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Pittsford Railroad Bridge in Vermont

I had a chance to interview Kaitlin about Preservation in Pink (PiP), how it has developed over time and played a role in preserving places of historic interests in the US. Given her in depth experience and knowledge in her field, I figured a little time to pick her brain and talk about preservation would give me, as well as the readers a little insight on the successes and drawbacks historic preservation is. Here are her comments to the questions I posed:

  1. What inspired you to create Preservation in Pink?

The short version. After graduating college, I missed my close preservation classmates and friends. Although I was working in historic preservation and enjoying my job, I missed the diversity of subjects from my classes and the varying conversations my friends and I would have late at night while working or studying in the preservation drafting lab. I was afraid that we might be stuck in our jobs and jaded, no longer the optimistic college students who believed in preservation and its capacity to save the world. To fill that void of conversation, I started a newsletter. The newsletter was a medium for us to share our ideas with friends and to continue to find the fun in preservation. I had experience in layout and editing and writing, so a newsletter seemed like a perfect fit. If you want the longer version, click here:  https://preservationinpink.wordpress.com/about/

  1. And what does the flamingo stand for?

The short story: In college, my classmates and I watched a video about Ashland, VA. The people in Ashland were divided over pro/anti Walmart sentiments. Those who opposed Walmart chose the tacky pink flamingo lawn ornament as their mascot. In the end, the opponents lost. And as passionate college students studying the evils of big box stores, we took this as our battle cry: We hate Walmart, we love flamingos!

From there, it snowballed. We started drawing flamingos on chalkboards, giving each other flamingo items, and even flamingo-ing our professors fronts lawns (out of love, of course). When we graduated college, the flamingo remained a symbol of friendship and our love for preservation. To this day (10 years later, we still call each other flamingos and send each other flamingo cards and tchotchkes). Pink flamingos were the whimsical, fun side of preservation.

The name Preservation in Pink references pink flamingos. I chose that name because I didn’t want it to be mistaken for a serious, academics-only newsletters. I wanted people to find preservation approachable and fun. And it was my newsletter, so I thought, why not?

A longer version of the story you can find here: https://preservationinpink.wordpress.com/2008/08/07/why-do-all-preservationists-love-flamingos/.

  1.  What was the purpose of PiP? Has that mission changed through the years?

The purpose of PiP has remained steadfast over the years, though how the mission is achieved has changed. The mission is:  to encourage communication between new and seasoned preservationists with and about the world around them. And to show everyone that historic preservation is everywhere you look and makes a positive difference in the world.

4.  When you created PiP, you had regular newsletters before switching to digital news coverage. When did you do this and why do such a change?

When I started PiP, newsletters made the most sense. Blogs hadn’t become popular yet, so it didn’t cross my mind. However, after creating the first newsletter, I realized that I needed a digital, accessible place to keep the newsletter so readers did not have to find it through a PDF in an email. However, creating a newsletter required getting articles on time from friends (whom I couldn’t pay). As the internet changed, newsletter weren’t fast enough. I wanted to be able to reach audiences on a less formal basis, a shorter format. On the blog, I could post here and there and keep people’s attention, and hopefully their interest in between newsletters.

As my writers, and I, became busier with careers or grad school, and blogs became more popular and newsletter less popular, I decided that it was time to let the newsletter go. It was an organic process. I enjoyed blogging all of the time, and a blog written mostly by me seemed more appropriate than a newsletter entirely by me.

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Proctor Marble Bridge in Vermont

5. PiP has experimented with several social apps, including that of photos. Why those and not facebook?

Over the years, the social media apps have changed in purpose, as we’ve all seen. PiP did have a Facebook page until then end of 2013. However, at that time I wanted to delete my personal FB, and I couldn’t have a PiP FB without my FB. (Maybe that’s changed, but I haven’t been interested in checking.)

I do keep the apps linked, because I know some readers use one and not the other. I do that through IFTTT, which allows an instagram post to become a wordpress post, which is then publicized on Twitter.

Yet, I do use each app for their own purposes. On Twitter, I like to find interesting stories and news, and communicate with social media friends. Instagram is my favorite app because preservation is very visual. It’s fun to see what other preservationists photograph and post, and learn about what they’re up to.

I’ve relied on Instgram to WordPress post capabilities heavily over the past couple of years. As my schedule became busier and there was less time for writing long blog posts, I could still micro-blog/photo-blog using Instagram.

  1.  What topics have you covered in PiP? 

The topics have changed as my career has changed and as I have changed, and that is quite varied as I worked in oral history in rural North Carolina for three years, and then attended graduate school and worked for the Agency of Transportation in Vermont, and now for an environmental + engineering firm, VHB, in Vermont. I’ve covered preservation news, preservation basics, preservation education, travel to historic places, abandoned buildings, oral history, road trips, preservation ABCs, guest posts, interviews with fellow preservationists…. anything and everything that can be connected to historic preservation, I’m up for writing about it.

  1. Also for historic bridges?

During my years working for the Agency of Transportation, I worked on a lot of bridge projects, and wrote about a lot of bridges: covered bridges, truss bridges, concrete bridges. I have an affinity for decorative concrete railings. I’ve written about photographing bridges, the history of particular bridges, bridges as gateways to historic districts, and I’ve posted a lot of bridge photographs over the years.

  1. While you have focused on historic places in Vermont and the New England states, you have started to “invade” Canada. Can you tell us about your adventures there? Any other countries and places in the US on your places to visit list in the future?

Your “invade Canada” observation made me laugh! My writing and my photography is, of course, going to be focused on where I live. My work is primarily in Vermont, so that accounts for many of my posts. I live in Burlington, VT, which is only 2 hours from Montreal, 4 hours from Quebec City, and 3.5 hours from Ottawa. For reference, Boston is about 4 hours from Burlington! So, by travel time alone, if I want to get to a big city, Montreal is my best bet! I love exploring new cities, and Canada has such beautiful cities. My significant other is from Montreal, which makes traveling in Canada more fun, too. He’s an excellent Canadian tour guide + travel partner.

Actually, I’ve never been out of the country, other than Canada! I would love to visit Europe: Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Ireland, Spain. In the near future? I don’t have any big trips planned, but San Francisco remains high on my list, as well as New Orleans. I love exploring the United States. One day, I’d love to take a cross-country train trip.

  1.  Word has spread that while Vermont prides itself on historic bridges, including the metal structures, other states, like Maine and New Hampshire are tearing them down systematically despite their historic significance. Can you explain why this is the case? And is this problem widespread in the US?

I can only speak to this generally. Many states (maybe most) delay necessary maintenance on bridges, which then adds to the repair cost. By the time the bridge comes up for repair/replacement/rehab, people just want a new bridge. I would say that this is a widespread problem in the US.

Covered bridges tend to be loved. Truss bridges don’t receive as much love. And concrete bridges have the worst fate usually, simply due to the ephemeral nature of concrete and the harsh climate conditions of the northeast (freeze/thaw cycles, and salt/sanding of the bridge). And the bridges that aren’t as loved, probably will not be high up on the preservation list.

While some of us love truss bridges; other people see just the peeling (sometime lead) paint and the hulking metal structure, rather than a beautiful historic structure. Sometimes this has to do with geometry and safety guidelines. Historic bridges have narrower lanes, no shoulders, or low clearances, and they are not always safe. On major thoroughfares, these bridges can pose problems. For those reasons, some bridges have to go.

  1. What could you say about the care and preservation of HB in Vermont (giving a grade, in comparison with nationwide)? Why?  (Based on historic places you’ve photographed that were not in the best condition)

ud to work for the Vermont Agency of Transportation, and proud of the work we did as an Agency, especially in the Environmental Section. While we do demolish historic bridges in Vermont (like I said, we cannot save them all), replacement bridges are designed with context sensitive solutions in mind. That means that if the bridge is in a historic district, the design will be compatible with the setting. Vermont is known for rehabilitating covered bridges, and we have metal truss success stories, too, such as the Checkered House Bridge in Richmond, VT.  I haven’t worked on bridges in other states, but I think Vermont should be proud of its work.

  1. When photographing bridges, what features are important, in your opinion? (Choose the main bridge types you’ve visited). 

Here’s my “How to Photograph a Bridge” post: https://preservationinpink.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/how-to-photograph-a-bridge/.

The most important features to me are elevation shots, context shots, and details. Details can include connections ( is it a pin connected truss? Bolts? Rivets? Hand hewn timber?) and date plaques.

12.When a person wants to preserve the bridge for reuse, what are some important aspects to keep in mind, especially when maintaining the structure?

  • What is the current condition of the bridge?
  • How will it be transported to the new location?
  • How will it be used? What does the load rating have to be?
  • Who will maintain the bridge? Is there an annual maintenance agreement? Who will pay for it?
  • Will the location benefit the public?
  1. Do you still talk history over a coffee? (I owe you one for this interview if you come to Germany, BTW)

Yes, I do! Okay, often it’s preservation over wine – depending on the time of day, of course. I will take you up on that when I make it to Germany.

14. What is your favorite bridge in VT? US? North America? The World?

Oh, that is a tough one. In Vermont, I have an attachment to the new Lake Champlain Bridge because working as the Historic Preservation Monitor for the bridge replacement project was my first job in VT. But, as for historic bridges? I’m not sure I can pick a favorite. I love finding bridges on back roads that most people wouldn’t see. The Proctor Marble Bridges (rehabilitated) is one of my favorites: https://preservationinpink.wordpress.com/2013/05/10/proctor-marble-bridge/

In the US? I love the Verrazano Narrows Bridge in New York, because I have many memories of driving over it with my parents + sisters to visit family, and later with college friends on our many routes up and down the east coast.

In the world? I’d love to see the Fourth Rail Bridge in Scotland.

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Close-up of the ballustrades of the Proctor Marble Bridge

If you want to know more about PiP, check out her website and follow her to get updates on some preservation successes and policies. You can follow PiP on twitter, instagram and other social networks. Some of her articles will appear in the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles as guest columnist.

Link: https://preservationinpink.wordpress.com/

And let the coffee-laden flamingos go wild in preserving America’s history and pride! 😉

bhc jacob

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