Preservation experts visit Woodstock

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Woodstock - posted Mon., Nov. 11, 2013
Ted Kinnari applies D/2 biological solution to a gravestone. Photos by D. Coffey.
Ted Kinnari applies D/2 biological solution to a gravestone. Photos by D. Coffey.

Jonathan Appell and Ted Kinnari, experts in the preservation and conservation of monuments, gravestones and historic buildings, visited Woodstock on Nov. 9. Their visit was sponsored by five Woodstock historical societies, commissions and associations, together with the Connecticut Gravestone Network. They spoke about advanced gravestone conservation methods and offered hands-on workshops to more than 30 people. It was the second day-long working session held on the topic in two weeks.

In many Connecticut towns, small groups of volunteers work to conserve the land that’s the final resting place for so many. And because so many cemeteries date back to Colonial times, the stones in their care often need restoration work.

“These are important genealogical records,” said Linda Chase, a member of the Woodstock Historical Society. “We’re losing an important part of history. These people mattered.”

Appell’s presentation was a geology, botany and history lesson rolled into one. Each played a part in determining how best to understand layouts of old cemeteries as well as to preserve the old stones found inside.

Participants learned about the types of stones used and how their selection changed over time. That kind of information can allow volunteers to create records where none exist, and to direct them to the best conservation techniques to use. 

As executive director of the Connecticut Gravestone Network, Ruth Shapleigh-Brown travels across the state to work with cemetery association volunteers charged with caring for old cemeteries. The challenges facing them can be daunting. It’s just as important to teach people what they can’t do as well as what they can, she said.

Her recommendations included:

• Never use bleach to clean a stone

• Don’t remove any stone fragments from a cemetery, even if there is no writing on the stone

• Don't use shaving cream as a way to make lettering more readable

• Don't use liquid nails, gorilla glue or silicone to fix stones

• Don’t dig trenches, pour concrete and set several stones inside them in one long line.

Appell was joined by Ted Kinnari, who developed a biological product to clean old stones. In the early 1990s, Kinnari, Norman Weiss and Irving Slavid created D/2 Biological Solution that now carries the stamp of approval from the National Parks Service. Among the benefits of D/2 are the ease and quickness with which volunteers can use it. It is biodegradable, will not etch metals, is not hazardous and requires no special handling or mixing. It works on marble, granite, limestone, brownstone, travertine, masonry, terra cotta, concrete and stucco. Kinnari used it on several stones to show its effectiveness.

The workshop also included points on pinning stones, "gluing" them back together and resetting them. And Appell passed around copies of a cautionary tale for the volunteers. It was a newspaper report about two men who were killed when a gravestone they were working on toppled over. “These stones can be very heavy,” Appell said. “You want to be careful.” 

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