May is National Preservation Month! To celebrate, we’re kicking off a feature called My Preservation Story, which highlights the PPS staff’s many paths to careers in preservation. We all got into this field one way or another — for some, it was a total accident, for others a lifelong dream — and found our way to Providence where, we all agree, the historic architecture is AWESOME. Each week, we’ll post a new story.
And we want to hear from you, too! Share how you became a preservationist by tagging PPS @PVDPreservation or using #mypreservationstory. Maybe it was a particular building, an important person, or a galvanizing event. Whatever your story is, we want to hear it! (And by “preservationist,” we mean someone who cares about historic places and the built environment, not necessarily preservationist with a capital P.)
Kelsey Mullen, Director of Education
At 10 years old, my greatest joy was a notepad of graph paper. A recent math lesson had revealed the ease of ratios, and I was off, wild ideas for floorplans and public parks flooding out of me. Weekends were for imagining new configurations of rooms and paths through the landscape, and I tailored whatever school assignments I could into opportunities to satisfy my curiosity about design and placemaking. Somewhere in my parents’ basement is still a posterboard titled “Designing a Public Space” and the scale model of a walled public garden to go with it.
In the end, I didn’t become an architect or designer and instead was pulled into history as a way to study humans’ relationships to the world around them. “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us,” proclaimed Winston Churchill in 1943 — he was advocating for reconstructing the bombed-out House of Commons chambers, but his words capture the essence of why I love the interplay between people and place. Preservation is the best way I know to engage the public in thinking about why our communities look the way they do and how we might continue to create places that matter.
Angela Kondon, Director of Donor Relations and Special Events
My first passion was art history. While many genres and media were of interest, Greek art seemed to capture my fascination the most. From the time I was first introduced to the Winged Victory of Samothrace in high school, to seeing it in person years later at the Louvre, I was devoted to the art history of Ancient Greece. Art history was my profession until I joined PPS in 2012.
While my path to historic preservation was an indirect one, perhaps when learning about the three orders of Greek columns, the seeds of historic preservation’s importance were planted. Because art, like place, needs to be thoughtfully preserved. Cities and towns don’t look the way they do by chance, rather they retain their character because of historic preservation.
I am so lucky to have landed in a city as beautiful and historic as Providence and to appreciate the hard work and dedication that made it so.
Kate Blankenship, Development Assistant
In college, I majored in archaeology and art history, and most of my studies focused on small, hand-held artifacts like ceramic vessels and stone tools. While I learned a lot from these objects, I didn’t truly get a sense of the lives of ancient people until I spent time doing fieldwork in Belize and Guatemala. The remnants of the region’s history were everywhere, with overgrown house mounds in the middle of cow pastures and decaying pyramids hidden deep in the jungle.
For me, that experience really cemented how important the physical experience of historic landscapes and architecture is for learning about the past (and understanding the present). I’m so glad I get to work toward the preservation of a place like Providence, with such a rich architectural and cultural heritage. And I don’t have to travel thousands of miles away to do it!
Marc Hutchison, Office Administrator
My passion for historic preservation came from my love of antiquities. I’ve always been fascinated with mythology and how each culture has their own myths that they tell from generation to generation. In college, I studied Cultural Anthropology and got the chance to study in-depth what these social phenomena mean to different societies.
One of the things that has always stood out wherever I am is the built environment that surrounds me. Every place has its own landmarks, and these buildings hold its history and soul. When I was a little kid I used to explore abandoned houses and imagine how the house used to look when it was inhabited and why it was deserted. When I walk through a historic building, I imagine all of the people who have been there before me, what they were like, and what life may have been like for them. It’s so important that we save this part of our cultural identity, and I am proud that I now have a part in the preservation of our built environment and the stories of our past through my work at PPS.
Brent Runyon, Executive Director
I’d never heard of historic preservation until 2003, well into my first career as an electrical engineer. After college, I moved into a Craftsman bungalow in the historic Seminary Ridge neighborhood in Columbia, SC. It was a tight-knit, active, community of people of all races, ages, and incomes with interesting architecture and walkable streets — ideal, in other words. When it was threatened first by the local college, which needed new dormitories, and then by the Department of Transportation, which needed more traffic lanes, I became an advocate for the preservation of our neighborhood’s character.
Around that time, I was learning that engineering wasn’t for me because it didn’t give me the opportunity to effect positive change in the world. Since I could pick up a pencil, I’d always loved architecture, and after a friend who grew up near Charleston, SC told me about something called “historic preservation,” I did a little research that led me to my true calling. In 2003, I enrolled in graduate school and have worked in preservation ever since.
Rachel Robinson, Director of Preservation
As the adult child of an architect and a history student at heart, it’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that I became a preservationist. It just took me several years after college to figure that out. Eventually, I studied urban planning and historic preservation and realized just how much I love place and historic architecture.
My late grandmother was an early influence who introduced me to many historic sites and museums and shared her love of travel. She said on more than one occasion, “Rachel likes old things.” The best part of my career in this field is sharing with others the knowledge to learn more about the places and buildings significant to them.