It has been a circuitous route to masonry for Peterborough’s Carol Jackson, but it all fits together looking back. She studied art in Toronto, and worked for several years in an Art School in Forest Hill teaching art to kids and adults. Her specialty was pottery, where she learned lots of “technical stuff” about clay, plaster, compounds and glazing. It also firmed up her sensitivity in the esthetics of clay.
Carol is not in a rush to finish a restoration job, even when her clients might be. She does not want to leave until she is satisfied with the finished product. This requires a mutual understanding with her clients, which she sorts out early in the relationship, as she understands that frequently she cares more about the final outcome than her clients. She also appreciates economic constraints, attributing this to her working class background, but holds tightly to her minimum standards.
Her restoration training was acquired at the Perth branch of Algonquin College in the Heritage Institute where she studied masonry. It landed her a job working on the Parliament buildings fresh out of school- not a bad launch to her new resume!
One of the challenges in Carol’s profession is sourcing materials. Often the original brick was made on site. The mortar in structures prior to 1890 would be made of local limestone fired at a fairly low temperature to make lime putty, a product that is not available at the Home Depot. This produced a binding agent that was more stable, more permeable and frankly superior to the current mortar mixes that eventually damage older bricks. This flaw can actually create more work for restoration experts as decades of repairs are creating new problems, as they defy the golden rule of masonry which says that mortar must be softer than the brick or stone it is used to bind. Mortar also requires special sand, which was also sourced on site for most heritage buildings. New sand must be selected for particle size and often tinted with minerals to achieve a colour match.
Then there’s the issue of sourcing historic bricks. There are many different sizes, and their colour is determined by what was naturally present in the clay. Brick forming methods have changed many times over the years. For larger projects, sourcing reclaimed brick from salvage companies is impossible, but some companies are making new bricks in some of the more popular historic shapes and colours. The best match is when a client has some extra bricks that they’ve found stowed away in the basement or under a porch, possibly from a dismantled chimney or a new door opening. Hold onto those bricks!
Carol has worked on several historical homes in the village. One never knows what issues lie beneath a crumbling brick wall. Rebuilding a back wall of one house this summer required moving the repaired wall substantially away from its original, flawed position. Strings in all directions guided the process, which worked out well despite early trepidation.
Another less specific problem for Carol she describes as cultural. She appreciates old buildings, and for her, the older, the better. In the last decade she has seen beautiful historic buildings in Peterborough demolished in the name of progress. She would like to see more efforts to adapt existing buildings to new uses in order to protect some of our rich architectural history.
Carol can be reached at email@example.com. KG