Self taught ceramic and wood artist Paul Charron of Building in the Past has been creating facade replicas of historic Western American architecture since 2003, inspired by his love of the west and the history of it’s settlement. These are not doll house or model railroad pieces, but Paul’s view of the intrinsic value held in a building’s existence.
Although painting and photography can capture the beauty of a building and it’s environment, Paul feels that only three dimensional representation through fine detail can produce true realism. Through his patience and perseverance, Paul strives to attain the most detail he can with his mediums. His three building facade of the Knights of the Pythias and Miner’s Union Hall from Virginia City Nevada for example, has nearly 1000 hours of work involved.
Paul currently spends most of his spare time creating in his studio, he intends on gradually shifting his entire concentration to documenting the West’s historic structures through his art. He is looking forward to sharing his passion and unwavering dedication to his chosen theme at history and art museums and western art galleries throughout the west.
Preservation Through Art
I create replicas of historic Western American building facades in approximately half scale. I concentrate on mid- to late-19th-century buildings, because this was a time of so much activity in the West. I try to present the buildings as they may have appeared a century ago in a weathered and abandoned state, brought about by the death of a once vibrant community.
I have always been intrigued by Ghost Towns and the history of the American West. The fact that men and women with great determination and ingenuity settled such a vast region in such a short span of time is certainly a great accomplishment. I am inspired by the spirit of their endeavors every time I look at the remnants of the towns they built and left behind. There are few architectural masterpieces in these towns, but many simple, elegant, and well built monuments to this fascinating time in American history.
My art can be described as Realism, although I do take artistic license in rendering the colors and tones of the building facades, and portraying various architectural elements at different points of time in the building’s life. No attempt is made to entice the viewer to look into the windows, the art is the building itself, and the spirit held within.
Working from my small home studio in Corvallis, OR, I first conduct research using information taken from site visits, historical photos, and Library of Congress Historic American Building Survey (HABS) diagrams. A great deal of time is taken to convert this information into templates and stabilizing supports for forming the building’s shell, which is made with mid- and high- fire clay and/or wood.
Clay shrinkage must be accounted for to achieve an approximate half inch scale. Doors, windows, and architectural details are created using various tight grained woods, metal, and glass. Color and texture is applied using fine mortar, aging solutions, powdered coloring dyes, earth tone chalks, and acrylic paints. Finished pieces can be hung or set on a pedestal or narrow shelf.
Spotlight on a Storefront: Hotel Meade in Bannack, MT, ca. 1875
In 1864 when the First Legislative Session was held in Bannack, it was named the County Seat of Beaverhead County. In 1875 an impressive brick building was built as the first Beaverhead County Courthouse, but by 1881 the gold rush to Montana was history. The citizens of Bannack fought to keep the county seat, but in February of 1881 the Territorial Legislature called for a special election in Beaverhead County to vote on moving the county seat to Dillon. After a venomous battle, Bannack lost the bid and the county seat was moved to Dillon.
All photos by Paul Charron; historic images respectfully reposted.
The large brick building remained empty until about 1890 when it was purchased by Dr. John Christian Meade for $1,250. Dr. Meade remodeled and turned the building into a plush hotel. It became the center of Bannack social activity and temporary home of many Montana travelers. A large kitchen, dining room and living quarters were added to the back of the hotel. The dining room was filled with tables to seat four or six and could be rearranged for larger parties. Beautiful white linens graced the tables along with fine china. Hotel Meade remained open for business for many years, abandoned at times only to reopen to meet the needs of Bannack each time mining activity in the area revived. The hotel operated off and on until the 1940s.
Bannack is now a special Montana State Park perhaps on a par with larger Bodie State Park in California. Many wonderful original structures remain and unlike Bodie, can be explored throughout. Although the porch and balcony were not part of it’s original purpose as a courthouse, it was added in the 1890s for its use as a hotel, and changed the character of the building. I loved the challenge of reproducing the railings and woodwork aided by diagrams from the Historic American Building Survey. The diamond patterns in the railings were particularly fun to create.
This often photographed building with its magical surrounding landscape just seems so familiar to me. Perhaps I lived here in another lifetime building in the past.
Art + Preservation
There is a ever-growing group of Buffalo-based artists going by Painting for Preservation that literally draw attention to distressed historic buildings in Buffalo. Painting for the past two-year their blog + artwork is worth the look.