Digital Documentation and Reconstruction of Old Sheldon Church with Chad Keller (Podcast 62).
Kevin Ammons: Welcome to the Preservation Technology podcast. The show that brings you the people and projects that are advancing the future of America’s heritage. I’m Kevin Ammons with the National Park Service’s National Center for Preservation, Technology, and Training. Today we join NCPTT’s Jason Church as he speaks with Chad Keller, professor of historic preservation at the Savannah College of Art and Design. In this episode Chad talks about a SCAD class project to digitally document and reconstruct Old Sheldon Church in Yemassee, South Carolina.
Chad Keller: This was a ruin that was constructed in 1751 in Yemassee, South Carolina. It’s an angelican church and at this point it’s a ruin. One of the things that we are really interested in and excited about this was the fact that it is a ruin, that it had been destroyed twice. The first time was during the Revolutionary War and then it was subsequently reconstructed around 1825, and then it was destroyed again in 1865 during the Civil War.
Since then it has sat as a ruin. More recently, probably in the last 10 to 20 years there’s been more interest in the site and it has been cleaned up. Have images from about 1940 where you can see all the growth and things like that that have been embedded within the brick work and such. That has at least been taken care of.
This project was really part of a new class that was introduced at SCAD and it’s called Digital Technology and Historical Preservation. Really what it’s about is utilizing newer digital technologies within the research process. Primarily what we want to do is we want to be able to create new avenues of research, new types of documentation, and then thinking of ways that we can reuse the material that we have collected for site interpretation so that eventually it can be disseminated to the public.
To that end, this project involved using both traditional analog methods but then also digital methods of documentation. When I say analog, that’s just basic, traditional tools that we’re all used to with pencil, paper, and a tape measure. Some other things that we ended up doing with that project was also laser scanner and also photogrametry. It might sound in some ways like over kill, but this class was focused on introducing students to different ways of documentation.
Some of the things that we do with that is that with the laser scanning we were able to convert those back into two dimensional drawings. Some people might question, well why if you’re collecting this three dimensional data because that is what you’re collecting with the laser scan data. Even with the photogrammetric data you’re collecting three dimensional points. Those three dimensional points can be pologomized, turned into a 3-D model. As I said previously, people might question why you’re converting those back, but according to HABS standards, things need to be in two dimensional drawings. The whole point of this is to be able to at some point, to possibly submit them to HABS but then, even for students that are going to be working in different industries like per se construction, that they’re still going to be requiring, at least at this point, two dimensional forms of drawings.
Maybe 10 years from now we’ll be looking at things at 3-D on a construction site or on some sort of hand-held portable, but at this point the most accepted method of measured drawings is in two dimensions.
Jason Church: Now you say HABS wants them in two dimensional. Is that for view-ability, or archives, why is HABS
looking for the drawings?
Chad Keller: It’s primarily I think for the way that they have set up their archiving. With the methods that are important to HABS with the 500 year old of ink and then the fact that needing to be carbon based you can’t have digital. That’s the methods that they’re wanting you to be able to submit these things. That’s all about archiveibility at this point. That’s some of the reasons of having to create the 2-D drawings.
Jason Church: The church you’re talking about, what is it’s surrounding area, what’s the landscape? Is it situated in a town, is it in a rural area?
Chad Keller: Yeah, it’s outside of Yemassee, South Carolina. It’s called Old Sheldon Road, the name of the church is Sheldon Church. It pretty much sits in the middle of nowhere, but at one time it sat pretty centrally to some major plantations within the area. It was the seat for the Bull family. The Bull family was instrumental in laying out Savannah. William Bull was instrumental in doing that. There’s evidence through the written record of where there was the Bull family crest that was located within the church. As the Bull family would walk into the entrance of the church, which at that point would be on the south side of the building, on the north side of the building is where the family crest would be. As they walked in they would be able to view upon their family crest.
Jason Church: You collected this digital data. What’s your plans to do with it, with these scans and the photogremetry?
Chad Keller: At this point one of the things was it was primarily an exercise for the class to be able to understand the differences between collecting data through the traditional methods. Doing this documentation traditionally and then being able to see what it was like using these newer, digital technologies. That was the main goal of the class, but what could be done with this information is that it could easily be handed over, with definitely some more work to create some sort of HABS format for that.
Some of the other things that could be done is that this digital information could be re-purposed for site interpretation. At this point there really isn’t any interpretation of the building on site and there really isn’t much of an interpretation of the building on the web so that you could have more of a web presence with that.
With these laser scans you can create 3-D models out of them. One of the things that the students did with this project, as I said it was a ruin, one of the things I was really excited about was the fact that they actually reconstructed the building and created a 3-D version of what they thought the building looked like in 1825 when the building was reconstructed the second time.
One of the things too is that in choosing the fact that it was the 1825 period and not the 1752 period from when it was originally constructed, is that there just wasn’t much information within the historic record. The students, through their research, were finding more information about the 1825 period and we agreed upon that that has the most information, and that should be the route of restoring that period.
How they ended up doing that was through the written record, through traditional research, and then also going around and looking comparatively at other churches within the region that were constructed around the same time period. Taking into consideration that this was a bit of a rural church and you wouldn’t find necessarily the same ornamentation that you would might find in a church in Charleston, but they were looking at other rural churches within South Carolina within the period at that point.
This could easily go onto a web site. They create a 3-D model of it that was put into Google Earth so this is something that could easily create some walk through or fly through at least to give people an idea of what it looked like. The other thing too is that this project could easily be continued because with 3-D modeling, sometimes people get the perception that, and especially with a rendering, that this is the final product and that’s really not true. This is more or less the first iteration. One of the things that could happen is for this to be passed on to other scholars of angelican churches of the period and for them to be able to vent this model and be able to say, “Well this isn’t accurate here. You might want to go back and re-think this aspect of it.” It could be an integrative model. This might be just the first generation of it.
Jason Church: It could easily be taken out and interpreted further and built onto.
Chad Keller: Exactly. Yeah, and then we could easily begin to show the whole process of creating the model and showing the different iterations and the different interpretations of that. In ways that through documentation and recordation, we always talk about process, especially in 3-D you can begin to show this process as well visually of how you first started out with the model and you have this first idea of what you thought and proposed it would look like. But then after further research and further discussion with colleagues and experts in the field, you’ve come to find out that maybe there was initial errors but then you’re going to go back and change that.
Jason Church: We need to keep in mind as conservators and historic preservationists doesn’t mean we’re architectural historians or curators so it’s good to involve the other fields into those decisions.
Chad Keller: Yeah and I think that brings up another point is that with the way the technology is going, there are so many other people that we’ve been able to work with through digital technology. That’s been exciting and I think it opens up opportunities to work with people that traditionally we haven’t worked with in the past. In some ways the field is expanding, but it gets a little bit smaller at the same time too. That’s been nice.
Jason Church: What other projects do you have planned in the future for your students?
Chad Keller: Well, this is actually for the first year it’s going to be mandatory. For all students in the preservation program, like last year was the first year that it was offered, it was an elective. Now it’s going to actually be part of the program so every student is going to have to take this course. Which is great because this is the way that the field is going as we see here with the summit. We know a lot of people from other industries and other universities are talking about these things, doing research, so all of these students are going to be getting exposed to that.
It’s really going to be on a per-project basis. I’m not set on this sort of model that we did the last time which was the project at Old Sheldon. Those things will be discussed, but we’re looking at other projects, other opportunities to do things in Savannah. For instance there’s been talk of doing more historic GIS projects. It’s really going to be dependent on what sort of things are available at the time.
I do want to try and mix it up. As I said, this year might be GIS, maybe the following year we go back to more reconstructions and things like that. It’s going to vary but still stay within the core of looking at these different digital technologies that are available.
Jason Church: Well thanks for talking to us. We look forward to maybe talking to you in the future about other work that your students are doing.
Chad Keller: Yeah that would be great. Thanks, it was nice talking to you and thanks to NPS and NCPTT.
Kevin Ammons: Thank you for listening to today’s show. If you would like more information, check out our podcast show notes at ncptt.nps.gov. Until next time, good bye everybody.