Notes from SESAH

Well, the SESAH conference is over as of Saturday’s bus tour of Jackson’s historic sites. I’m sure all of you were able to attend and listen to interesting papers and the thoughtful keynote lecture. If you weren’t though, rest assured your faithful correspondent attended several Mississippi-related papers and took copious notes for the MissPres readership. Here’s just a little of what I heard:

Hays Town’s Mississippi, a paper by scholar David Sachs, who wrote his dissertation about Overstreet and Town, explored Town’s later Mississippi career, after he had left the state and after his former partner N.W. Overstreet died in the early 1970s. I had forgotten that Town, in addition to being Overstreet’s partner during the 1930s, was also the Mississippi leader for the Historic American Building Survey, which measured and documented a number of Mississippi’s most important landmarks. At the same time though, Town was designing some of Mississippi’s boldest Art Moderne structures, including Bailey Junior High School (see masthead of this blog). When Town moved back to his home state of Louisiana, he continued to design Modernist buildings through the 1940s and early 1950s, but his own home was a reinterpretation of vernacular Creole building forms and details. His residential commissions in this very personal architectural language grew over the 1950s, and he began reducing his large staff and concentrating his attention solely on these smaller, more personal projects, where he could provide on-site supervision and attention to the most minute details. According to Sachs, the defining features of Town’s houses are:

  • materials–recycled, slate, copper, replicating hand-made details
  • authenticity of details–workable shutters, wood windows, etc.
  • generosity of scale–deep porches, high ceilings
  • apparent additions, multiple pavilions, informal compositions

Although he is closely associated with the Acadian style in Mississippi, Sachs believes Town’s popularity is as much from the sense of place and history in his houses than from simply the stylistic details. I’m still somewhat confounded by Town’s almost complete switch from Modernist to anti-Modernist. He’s a complex architect for sure.

P1020490-smallStephanie Busbea, owner of Jackson’s International-style William Wiener House, gave a paper on this little gem, which sits in the Woodland Hills neighborhood and which was also on the bus tour on Saturday. Designed by William and Samuel Wiener of Shreveport for their first cousins in Jackson, the house is a beautiful light-filled space that makes the heart of all mid-century modernists start to flutter. The house, as you may recall, has recently been presented to the Mississippi National Register Review Board and hopefully will be listed on the National Register within the next few months.

Nature and Humanity in a Simple Shed: Fay Jones’s Pinecote Pavilion by University of Arkansas professor Ethel Goodstein-Murphree (who gave a paper that included Meridian architect Chris Risher at the national SAH meeting in May) was an almost poetic essay about the Pinecote Pavilion at the Crosby Arboetum near Picayune. I’ve only been to one of Fay Jones’ buildings–the famous and loved Thorncrown Chapel near Fayetteville, Arkansas, but that was enough to make we want to experience more of this architect’s amazing created spaces. I will definitely put the Pinecote on my list for the next year.

P1020494In his The Architectural Resume of William Nichols, Paul Kapp of the University of Illinois reviewed the progression of Nichols’ career from his design of the North Carolina state capitol in Raleigh through Alabama and New Orleans and ending with our own Old Capitol building here in Jackson. Nichols began his career as a carpenter like his father in Bath, England, but transformed himself into an architect after immigrating to North Carolina. His designs in the 1820s were based on the delicate Adamesque details but by the time he arrived in Jackson to take over the Capitol project, he have moved to the more bulky and broad architectural features of the Greek Revival style as found in the published drawings by Minard Lafever. I was a little disappointed the story ended with the Old Capitol, as Nichols continued to be the State Architect for several years and spent the rest of his life in Mississippi. Someone needs to write a book about his Mississippi career, which actually was the longest period in his life.

Virginia Price of the Historic American Buildings Survey gave a paper Cataloguing Mississippi for the Historic American Buildings Survey that reviewed the work of HABS in Mississippi. This was a fascinating study and I hope that we can do more HABS work, especially the measured drawings, in the state in the future. One thing I particularly noted was that Jackson architect Emmett Hull succeeded Hays Town as district officer for HABS. As you no doubt recall, Hull was the husband of artist Marie Hull and a cousin and partner of E.L. Malvaney.

Friday’s keynote and Saturday’s bus tour will get separate treatment coming up.

Categories: Architectural Research, Modernism, Preservation People/Events, Recent Past

4 replies

  1. How interesting about William Nichols! I had forgotten completely that he stayed in Mississippi. An invitation to research!


  2. For those who would like to know more about Hays Town and Overstreet, Sachs dissertation is available (sadly, only on microfilm) at the Miss. Dept. of Archives and History: The work of Overstreet and Town[microform] :the coming of modern architecture to Mississippi /David H. Sachs. With illustrations!

    I wish I could have gotten to some of those papers, but I did get to the keynote lecture. I can’t wait to hear what you have to say, sir!


  3. The Historic Preservation Division of MDAH has a real paper copy of the Sachs dissertation, but the image reproduction quality is really bad, and of course you can’t check it out. Reading that dissertation taught me so much about architecture in general and particularly in Mississippi. I didn’t realize that Overstreet was the modernist of the pair–always assumed Town, being the younger, was the one pushing designs like Bailey and Columbia HS.


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