Four University of Mary Washington (UMW) undergraduates in historic preservation attended the 2016 VAF conference in Durham in June. As their faculty sponsor, I was thrilled to be able to share the VAF conference experience with this tireless group. Each of the students was able to not only attend sessions but assisted the tour coordinators, allowing them to meet even more VAF members. As you will see from the following reflections, each of them took away a deep appreciation for place and the special collegial atmosphere at VAF conferences. Special thanks to the numerous VAF members, local hosts, and paper presenters that provided such a memorable experience for all of us. All four ambassadors can’t wait to come to future conferences and share the experience with others.
-- Dr. Christine Henry, UMW professor and VAN editor
As an ambassador to this year’s annual conference I feel I really got to experience the best side of VAF. I felt welcomed by all and tremendously enjoyed the whirlwind days and tours and papers.
Helping on the Piedmont Patchwork tour I was able to learn some of the more important VAF customs, such as not being left by the bus and trying to stay out of pictures. Of particular interest to me were the German headstones and visible marriage marks on timber framed barns.
On the second day, the tour of Durham and my own explorations made me wish I had more time to get to see the city. To see the ways in which Durham and the surrounding communities embraced their history through architecture taught me more than any class has before on the true value of historic preservation.
After the wonderful tours I found the paper sessions equally engaging, and afterwards I wanted learn more about almost every topic presented. The conversations had with fellow members, the drinks and dancing are things I will remember fondly. As a student this experience has given me a place to reinforce my drive and keep learning after graduation.
Going into VAF I’d heard many good reviews of the organization and the conferences, however I don’t think I was prepared for just how much I’d do, learn, and enjoy. This conference was especially personal for me since I’m from North Carolina and my family has deep roots in the tobacco industry. This was a chance for me to learn more about my own heritage, as well as to share that experience with both new and old friends.
In the historic preservation field, one of the best way to learn is to explore and see as many historic buildings as you can. This conference took that to a new level, the quantity and quality of the sites that we saw was outstanding and I learned so much more than I expected – in terms of architecture, ticks, and tobacco. Growing up in NC, I’ve seen a lot of tobacco fields in my life, but I don’t think I ever really saw the beauty of the plant until I noticed people taking pictures of the tobacco fields on one of the tours I attended.
When I go back for my senior year in the fall, I will take with me all the knowledge that I gained this week. I’m armed with lots of pictures and the tour guide books to use as context for buildings that I study in school and beyond. I have stories of neat buildings, wonderful conversations, and newly-created dance moves based on architectural styles to share with my preservation friends.
Before this year’s VAF conference, the only other professional conference I attended was last fall’s National Trust conference in Washington D.C. Because of this, I had no idea what to expect.
The National Trust conference was a very overwhelming experience for me. It was wonderful to see the broad spectrum of historic preservation and the feeling of togetherness and size that the National Trust promotes, but I found interacting with professionals challenging. The VAF conference was the absolute opposite. Everyone I encountered was friendly, engaging, and genuinely interested in my areas of study. It was fascinating to be exposed to so many scholars and enthusiasts who, despite coming from different disciplines and backgrounds, all share a common interest in vernacular architecture.
I attended the Bright Leaf and the Farm to Factory tours, and I was surprised with the level of access we were given at each of the sites we visited. Having the ability to see and interact with the building put a different perspective on each tour’s theme. Spending time inside a tobacco barn, discovering how tobacco was cured gave insight into the first steps of tobacco production, while touring renovated tobacco warehouses in Durham showed where the final steps took place. And being around friendly, knowledgeable scholars made the experience that much more enriching.
Being selected as a VAF Ambassador gave me an opportunity to learn, network, and engage in conversation with a variety of professionals. As a current undergraduate student at UMW, I focus on museum studies and interpretation. Attending this conference let me see that my education is giving me the tools to engage with structures on many levels.
By attending this conference, I got to pack months worth of learning into a few days. When I graduate, I want to have a well-rounded idea of what the field of historic preservation is and where it can take me. I was so intrigued to see that the members of VAF come from a variety of fields. At points I found myself standing next to a photographer, architect, and conservationist, and we were all looking at the same structure through different eyes. I learned so much not only about North Carolina culture, but also simply how to look at a building from multiple perspectives, figuratively and literally.
I left VAF feeling rejuvenated and had a renewed love of architecture and preservation. With one more year left at UMW, I will be bringing what I learned in Durham back to Fredericksburg and using it to start conversations in class and with my fellow students.