Restored Academic Hall Fixtures as Eloquent as Fine Jewelry

News_AcademicFixtures04_2013

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Oct. 24, 2013 – The craftsmanship and handiwork of Loyd Ervin and his family will be on display for all to admire when Academic Hall reopens to the public today at Southeast Missouri State University.

“It’s labor intensive, it’s dirty, it’s chemicals and it’s dusty,” said Ervin, who operates Ervin’s Metalsmiths Inc. at 115 Themis in downtown Cape Girardeau, along with his wife, Jayne, and daughters, Kendra Harris and Regan Laiben.

They spent the better part of this year and last restoring about 30 original light fixtures from Academic Hall to their original metals.

“It was important to me to be a part of that project,” Ervin said. “Someday, my grandchildren will probably walk under some of those fixtures.

“It was an interesting project,” he continued. “Working on something from the 1904 World’s Fair … to touch something like that and that type of craftsmanship is something you don’t do every day.”

Inaugurated on May 2, 1906, Academic Hall has stood at the center of the Southeast Missouri State University campus for more than 100 years. The building has become the icon of the University and the architectural centerpiece of the campus. Academic Hall, which features light fixtures from the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, has been closed for the past two years while undergoing a $23.9 million major refurbishment and restoration project. The building is reopening this evening with a rededication ribbon cutting ceremony at 5:30 p.m. in Academic Auditorium.

Ervin said each of the building’s light fixtures they restored contained about 60 pieces. They disassembled each fixture, removed the old finish, cleaned each piece of it, used a solvent to remove its lacquer and an acid dip to remove any corrosion, he explained. Then, to restore each fixture to its original color, they used a fine wire brush to create a uniform satin finish. Each piece was then polished with a greaseless compound on a cloth wheel, and a clear, non-yellowing lacquer was applied to keep them from retarnishing.

“It all has to be hand done,” he said, adding he prides himself on working efficiently, meeting deadlines and making sure “they look good.”

The Ervins took each fixture apart to assure its color was uniform. The final step involved reassembling the pieces of each.

“Some were more elaborate than others,” he said. “Most were brass pieces. They were all handmade and still had their original chain-links, he said.

The most elaborate piece is a fixture that stretches 17 feet from top to bottom, he said. It is now hanging in a stairwell between Academic Hall’s second floor and newly created mezzanine. The top half of that fixture is original, he said, and they reproduced the bottom half during a fabrication process.

“We worked closely with KT Power to do everything correctly” so it would work in its designated location, he said.

The Ervins also restored several sconces in the building, including a pair on either side of the main front doors of Academic Hall, as well as a pair on both sides of the entrance to the auditorium. Those on the outside of the building feature brass, copper and bronze. Those at the entrance to the auditorium are beaded globes. Each has hundreds of glass beads strung on a wire and wrapped around a globe, he said.

No matter whether light fixtures or sconces, every piece must be treated with utmost care, he says.

“It has to be just as good as a fine piece of jewelry,” said Ervin, who also specializes in jewelry repair.

Ervin has been in the metalsmith business for more than 40 years. In 1971, he took over a business previously operated by Otto Dingeldein. The business has been on Themis Street since 1975 and is operated in the former Goodwill store.

In 1975, Ervin earned a teaching degree in industrial arts from Southeast Missouri State University. Since that time, he has restored pieces large and small. He also repaired and refinished the old light fixtures at the old approach to the Mississippi River bridge in Cape Girardeau. It’s an interesting business, he says, because every day offers the opportunity to work on something different.

“You never know what’s going to walk through the door,” he said, adding it may be an old copper washboard or old brass beds.

He once was asked to restore a pair of matching brass bathtubs from the Farmington, Mo., area.

“Whether I think the piece is valuable it not important,” he said. “What’s important is that it’s valuable to the customer.”