Scott Kreilick is CEO and president of Kreilick Conservation, LLC, of Oreland, PA, a company that specializes in architectural restoration, conservation, and preservation of architecture, sculpture, and other objects. I’ve known Scott for years, but hadn’t seen him in a while. I was in the office at Philadelphia ‘s Historic Laurel Hill Cemetery a few months ago when he walked in. He was meeting the administrator to discuss restoring the Old Mortality statue group at the gatehouse of the cemetery. Intrigued as I am with decaying statuary, I invited an interview to discuss his work.
Stoneangels: What’s the difference between conservation and restoration?
Kreilick: They’re activities that fall under the umbrella of “preservation.” Restoration is restoring a building or an object to a specific state from a certain time period at some point in its past history. Conservation conserves original material, to mitigate active decay and inhibit additional decay. Sometimes there is overlap. For instance if a statue has a missing arm–like the Venus DeMilo – I could recreate the arm with original materials. I adhere to the American Institute of Conservation code of ethics, however. A conservator needs to be able to recognize that my work is not original – I don’t create forgeries. Also, I won’t make up a new arm if I have no record of what the original looked like. That’s important to me.
Stoneangels: There’s a lot of ruin and decay in cemeteries – why is that?
Kreilick: Most of that you see in abandoned church cemeteries – prior to 1830. Families died off or the church disbanded. Nobody was left to take care of them [the cemeteries]. Its not that the will is not there, its that the resources are not there.
With the advent of the rural cemetery movement (the first being Pere Lachaise in Paris, the first in the U.S. being Mt. Auburn in Boston followed by Laurel Hill in 1836), you began to see endowments set up, income from burials, and donations. This money is used to maintain the integrity of the grounds and monuments. At that point in 1836, Laurel Hill was a couple of miles outside the city! Because it was out of the city, it was scenic, and there was a distinct effort to make it a place to visit, to walk, to enjoy the scenery.
If a cemetery is no longer actively burying people, there’s no income with which to maintain the cemetery. The only way to produce income is to find more places to bury people in the cemetery, or more creative ways like cremation – build mausoleums to store the cremains. That’s why endowments are established to maintain family lots on an individual basis. Now, when someone is buried they will try to create an endowment from the start, so there’s a source of income to maintain the plots. If you don’t have income production or endowments, you have to start looking for donors – people who have an interest in historic cemeteries.
Stoneangels: Some materials weather better than others I’ve seen.
Kreilick: Of the various stones and metals used, granite and zinc hold up better than marbles and bronze. The acid rain destroys limestone and marble, causes bronze and copper to oxidize, and iron to rust.
Stoneangels: Would your work be more difficult if you lived in Europe? The quality of the statuary there seems so much better.
Kreilick: I don’t know that it would be more difficult. Artists still use alabaster, soapstones, limestones, marble, bronze alloys – they’re the same materials that have been used for thousands of years. The skill required to produce a masterwork in marble is very rare today. Before the mid-1800s, the better carvers were in Europe. Early American sculptors got their grounding and training in Europe. But they use the same materials, they’ve just developed different styles of carving.
Stoneangels: What kind of metal are the greenish statues made of that we see in cemeteries? It’s oxidation that causes that?
Kreilick: Yes. Most likely bronze (which is mostly copper)–it’s the cupric ions that cause them to turn green.
Stoneangels: The stone carving course you’re currently taking at PAFA, is that to give you a better idea of how statues are made?
Kreilick: No, I just wanted to do something creative, something that didn’t involve metals. I’ve worked with metals most of my professional life.
Stoneangels: You told me about your consulting work for the National Park service on cut nails, iron nails. Did you go to school for that?
Kreilick: Before going into conservation, I worked as a metallurgist in industry for 15 years. So I came into the business with a prior interest in historic metals. Non-ferrous metals which were used in historic structures or objects are bronze, brass, copper, zinc, aluminum. For ferrous metal, wrought iron, cast iron, and steel.
When I was completing a Bachelor’s Degree at Penn [University of Pennsylvania] in the History and Sociology of Science Department, I chose to study the manufacture of cut nails for my thesis. I wanted to tie together my interest in metals together with my interest in historic preservation. This was in anticipation of entering the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation at Penn. What really grabbed me about nails was how ubiquitous they are. You don’t build in this country without nails!
So I researched that and have subsequently been hired by architects and the National Park Service to assess nails from various historic buildings – including buildings from the Manassas Battlefield, Monocacy (right outside of Frederick, Maryland), the King of Prussia Inn, the Livezey House (Glen Fern) on the Wissahickon. So I’ve become somewhat of an expert on nails, from wrought nails to cut nails to wire nails, and their manufacture.
Continue reading: Part 2, Part 3