Daily Inspiration from the 2019 Christopher H. Browne Colonial Williamsburg Drawing Tour
Follow the ICAA's program in Williamsburg from May 30 - June 2, which studied the architecture, interiors, landscapes, and urbanism of this important historical location through a variety of measured and analytical drawing techniques. Blog posts on each day of the program are provided courtesy of Tour participants.
May 30th, by Laura Lynn Hutton
It was exciting to get back to another ICAA event! This was my first drawing tour and multi-day workshop, and my hope for the weekend was to gain confidence in field measuring while engaging with anyone willing to share his or her knowledge with someone who is still fitting the pieces of classicism and architecture together.
The Thursday evening reception opened with seeing old friends and making new ones, which I have learned is as valuable as the practical knowledge gained at these events. The attendees were a mix of seasoned practitioners and young students from Texas to NYC, which kept the energy and discussions lively. Stephen Chrisman warmly welcomed us and reviewed the plans and expectations for what the weekend would hold.
May 31st, by Laura Lynn Hutton
Friday morning started with a walk to the John D. Rockefeller Library, where we were treated to a review of original drawings by architects such as Singleton Peabody Moorehead and Thomas Tileston Waterman, both of whom worked to bring about the vision of a restored Williamsburg. We had the opportunity to pore over formal architectural documents, field sketches, and measured drawings, which exposed us to the what, why, and how elements were documented, and was a reminder that the purpose of many drawings was for documentation, not how beautifully they were rendered.
The first challenge was drawing the capitol and refreshing my brain to practice seeing clearly what is before me and translating it to paper. I began slowly; however, teaching assistant Marty Burns encouraged me to push my comfort zone - and my line weights - to add depth and shadow to my drawings.
As I worked, I found that the architectural details of the buildings began to show themselves more clearly, while Stephen Chrisman and Michael Mesko engaged us in conversation about what we were observing. Our discussion allowed us to better understand the buildings, and it developed into a dialogue throughout the weekend about the characteristics unique to Tidewater and regional architecture.
The second part of the day that was significant for me was our analysis of building proportions. Of particular interest was an exercise at the courthouse using an existing analysis of the facade elements. This simple exercise led us to a valuable discussion of understanding when some elements need to be out of what may be considered “correct” proportion due to their context and how they would be viewed once built. For example, Stephen mentioned he felt the courthouse cupola was too tall when drawn in elevation, but when viewed in context at street level, the cupola looked right.
The final event for the day was an interesting presentation by Jeff Klee, the Shirley and Richard Roberts Architectural Historian for Colonial Williamsburg. Jeff shared that architectural historians must consider the social aspect of architecture. The original architects restored Williamsburg as they knew best in their time, but today’s methods include understanding the buildings as tools, not pristine monuments, as well as the humanity and influence of the people within them.
May 31st, by Eric Kerke
The Christopher H. Browne Colonial Williamsburg Drawing Tour officially started Friday morning, May 31st. I met up with a fellow attendee to sketch the beautiful Capitol at the end of Duke of Gloucester Street. From there, we went to the tour’s first stop: The John D. Rockefeller Library. The librarian pulled out sketchbooks, renderings, and elevation drawings for the group to look at. I was amazed at the quality of the work produced a century ago. We saw drawings from Singleton Peabody Moorehead, Andrew Hepburn, Arthur A. Shurcliff, and T. M. Shaw.
I was struck by T. M. Shaw’s rendering of the Capitol. There was an economy of mark-making and a full use of values which only a master could express. It was inspirational to see hand drawn elevations and the site plan of Governor’s Palace inked on linen.
On our way out, we spotted a construction mockup for Quinlan Terry’s building in Williamsburg. It was great to correlate real-world construction with the drawings we just saw. We went back to the Capitol and did measured drawings. I took dimension notes of the site plan: courtyard, west wing, and loggia. We then drew a street section of downtown Williamsburg and examined the Market House. The Market House’s floor plan was 20’ x 40’, and we noted details like the open wooden trusses with deep eaves.
After lunch, we examined and drew the Courthouse. While drawing, we were looking for geometrical harmonies in the composition. For example, the length of the Courthouse to the height of the central tower closely fit a square. Next, we walked down the big lawn in front of the Governor’s Palace and drew the George Wythe House. Once again, we examined the façade for compositional harmonies and found many. My favorite was the back chimneys lining up with the front windows.
From there, we walked over and did a measured drawing of the outbuildings in Grissell Hay Lodging House. I was still getting the hang of measured drawings, as most of my drawing experience has been by eye. By the end of the tour, I felt confident using an architect’s scale and dimensions to create a drawing. We finished the day with an excellent lecture by architectural historian Jeff Klee about the reconstruction of Colonial Williamsburg.
Overall, the tour was a success. I was continually charmed by the quaintness of Williamsburg. What at first seemed like a modest home would later reveal itself to be a sophisticated expression of classical design. This was evident in countless details like the entasis of the porch posts to the placement of the block modillions in the roof molding. I was able to distinguish America’s inheritance of European forms in Williamsburg’s architecture. I’m glad to have experienced Williamsburg through the ICAA’s instructors and program.
June 1st, by Cythia Goldsmith and Terry Davis
Today was quite intense! It began early – 7:00 AM – with pouring rain, as we met at the Governor’s Palace for a guided tour with Jeffrey Klee, Colonial Williamsburg’s chief Architectural Historian. This principle building, at the head of a beautiful green, is an incredible 1930’s reconstruction of the original 1706 building, complete with sumptuous details and colors throughout! After Jeff led us through the structure, we proceeded to sketch, measure elements, and draw in our sketchbooks, uninterrupted by tourists.
After we exited the Governor’s Palace, we boarded a bus that took us to Carter’s Grove, a private residence that once belonged to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Carter’s Grove was built for Robert “King” Carter, who, at his death in 1732, 0wned approximately 300,000 acres and 1000 slaves. He had served as Treasurer of the Virginia Colony, Speaker of its House of Burgesses, and President of the Governor’s Council. The clouds had cleared, and the sun was shining. Ralph Harvard, the present owner’s Architect and Interior Designer, escorted us through the main house, giving us a colorful history and descriptive analysis, of this incredible plantation house. We lingered to draw details and elevations of the beautiful Palladian architectural elements.
We returned to Colonial Williamsburg and shared a group lunch at Shield’s Tavern, a reconstruction of the original 1705 tavern. We then walked to the Robert Carter House, which was built in 1751 and inhabited in 1761 by the grandson (Robert Carter III) of the Carter’s Grove Plantation patriarch. The building is distinguished by its double-hip roof. It is also interesting that it has less windows on the street elevation than it has on the garden elevation, signifying the public and private faces of this house. Jeff Klee again joined us and explained that the Robert Carter House has yet to be restored, and is currently being used as a laboratory, of sorts, in which to learn the history of the construction of the structures of Colonial Williamsburg. We learned about the process that has led to the restoration of the 88 original structures that remain from the 18th and early 19th centuries. We sketched details of mantels, trim, and paneling, under Michael Mesko’s and Stephen Chrisman’s watchful eyes. Martin Burns and Jeff Klee also circulated through the house and offered us suggestions on drawing technique and detail observation.
The next stop was the Everard House (1717-1719), one of the earliest houses in Colonial Williamsburg. Jeff again guided us through the residence, pointing out its unusual details and craftsmanship. We sketched many molding profiles, including window architraves and chair rails. The staircase was particularly enjoyable to draw—every part of the staircase was its own masterpiece, from the flowers carved in the stringers to the spiraling fluted balusters. Each landing was even composed of wooden mosaics.
Our Saturday adventure came to an end as we enjoyed a candlelight dinner at the King’s Arms Tavern. This gave us the time to converse with our instructors and classmates on an intimate level. Stephen Chrisman, Michael Mesko, and Martin Burns were the best instructors a student could have asked for!
June 2nd, by Tommy Vince
On Sunday, our last day in Williamsburg, we began the day analyzing some of the homes and gardens in the town. We were fortunate to have a nice sunny day and shady spots to sketch in. Our first stop was the William Finnie House, which is the only three-part house in Williamsburg. We had a quick 30-minute elevation study, and together discovered some amazing proportions of the house. We compared the front and back elevation, as well as the garden plan and out-buildings.
Our next stop was Wetherburn’s Tavern, as well as its garden and outbuildings, built from 1743 - 1753. From here, participants did various measured drawings from garden plans, out-building elevations, porch details, or door and hardware details.
As we walked to our next house, we would stop and admire the various outbuildings, dairies, and interesting features some of them shared, and other features that made them unique.
At the John Blair House, built in 1720 and 1735, we had some more garden details to draw and compare to Wetherburn’s Tavern, as we especially looked for the best shady spots in the garden. We drew garden plans, canopy details, and stone sizes.
After lunch, we went to the College Corner, where Merchants Square ends and meets the entrance of the College of William & Mary. Randy Holmes, Senior Principal and President of Glavé & Holmes Architecture, came to talk about new buildings designed by Quinlan Terry that his firm served as project architect on. The new buildings were built in 2002, following Perry Shaw and Hepburn’s design for Merchants Square. These new buildings hold the new corner and edge of the square facing North Boundary Street and Merchant Square.
Randy took us through some drawings and intentions behind the design, as well as the incredible attention to detail by the architects and masons who designed and built the beautiful stonework. This coordination was especially interesting because of the communication from England to America with the many architects, designers, and builders involved. It was incredible to see the amazing modern-day stonework and detailing, and to hear Randy talk about what he and Quinlan learned from each other through such an amazing project.
We finished the Drawing Tour with farewell drinks at the Williamsburg Inn. We laid out all our drawings over the few days for a final review. It was great to see such beautiful drawings and to talk about how much we learned over this trip. With final goodbyes of newly made friends, we left Williamsburg with a passion and attention for beautiful architecture and details.