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Robert Adam

2009 Askins Achievement Award Recipient

"Robert Adam has been a tireless advocate for thorough skills training in traditional building trades for more than thirty years."

Robert Adam has been a tireless advocate for thorough skills training in traditional building trades for more than thirty years, and the Askins Achievement Award would be a fitting recognition of his contribution to the preservation and promotion of traditional trade skills and practices. Not only has Mr. Adam been directly involved in training many preservation carpenters, but his classes have worked throughout the eastern New England region, providing a service to many house museums and historic sites hampered by meager budgets but responsible for saving our architectural heritage.

Mr. Adam is the principal architect of the most successful full-time preservation skills training program in the country. In 1982, he was hired to work as a carpentry instructor at North Bennet Street School to teach contemporary construction methods and subsequently became head of the department. However, while in that position, he proposed that the school offer preservation training that would be unique in the field: a curriculum-based training program to teach comprehensive traditional carpentry skills in the classroom and shop and on projects chosen to teach and reinforce those skills. Instead of a single site, Mr. Adam foresaw the opportunity to work on historic sites throughout New England and the Northeast. Since its beginning in 1986, the Preservation Carpentry program has graduated more than 200 students who enter the field with manual skills, hands-on experience and analytical abilities. He follows the graduates’ careers, often advising on site-work problems, and is proud to find many of them are now his colleagues in the field. In addition to woodworking skills, Mr. Adam has included painting, plaster, masonry and metal work training whenever possible, as an encouragement to his students to continue to learn skills beyond those of the carpenter.

His resourceful direction and problem-solving made possible the operation of the program in limited quarters for many years, working on-site or in borrowed space when projects required it. Over ten years and while involved in other projects, Preservation Carpentry students substantially restored Shaw House, a building owned by the school and serving as the program bench space: repaired and restored structural elements, preserved and replicated millwork, repointed masonry, preserved original plaster and completed three-coat plaster in the first two floors.

Mr. Adam has worked tirelessly to raise the standards for his own work as well as that of his students. He has pursued his own continued professional development in the field, attending workshops and seminars given by the Preservation Trades Network, the Vernacular Architecture Forum and APT. Over the last twenty five years he has taught and participated in many trade workshops at Eastfield Village. He was chosen in 1998 as an Attingham Scholar, attending their annual tour program of Country Houses in England. In 2002 he was one of the first chosen as a Quinque Fellow and spent eleven weeks in Scotland in a cooperative sharing of historic preservation practices with professionals from Historic Scotland and others throughout the country. Setting a high standard of community involvement for his students and his field, Mr. Adam has served as a volunteer and consultant on many projects throughout New England. He has served as a member of his Historic Commission in the town of Shirley, Massachusetts for thirty years, volunteered on many town boards, and serves as a board member for several historical societies and museums. As a longtime member of the advisory panel for the Restoration/Renovation Exposition (now Traditional Building) he has advised on trade training, leading a number of panel discussions with other professionals from around the US. Mr. Adam also speaks on preservation issues at various forums. Most recently, he has spoken to Massachusetts Barn Preservation Task Force and has been a featured speaker several times in Craft in Context, a joint program between Historic New England (then SPNEA) and the school, pairing him as a craftsman with an architectural curator. In short, Robert Adam represents in every way the qualities, accomplishments and dedication that is envisioned for the recipient of the Askins Achievement Award.

Nomination statement by Miguel Gómez-Ibáñez, Executive Director, North Bennet Street School

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