Conservation Solutions, Inc: Art + Architecture + Artifacts

The Greatest Show on Earth: The History and Conservation of Jefferson Davis McKissack’s Orange Show


This lecture was part of the Divine Disorder Conference on the Conservation of Outsider Folk art that was organized and hosted by NCPTT. The conference was held February 15-16, 2012 on the campus of Northwestern University in Natchitoches, Louisiana.

The Orange Show is a folk-art environment located in Houston’s East End and built single-handedly by Jefferson Davis McKissack, a Houston postal worker, between 1956 and 1979. Envisioned as a 3,000 sq. ft. educational environment advocating the benefits of oranges and steam power, the Orange Show includes an oasis, a wishing well, a pond, a stage, a museum, a gift shop, and several upper decks fit together to create a maze of paths and spaces. McKissack built the Orange Show of concrete, brick, steel and found objects including: gears, tiles, wagon wheels, mannequins, tractor seats, and statuettes.
The owner, The Orange Show Center for Visionary Art (OSCVA), engaged SWCA Environmental Consultants, Inc. with funds from a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant to assess the current conditions and produce a comprehensive report documenting the history, past conservation and preservation efforts, on-going maintenance and conservation practices, and structural stability of the folk art piece. SWCA assembled a team including Conservation Solutions, Inc. (CSI) as the art conservator and Sparks Engineering, Inc. as the structural engineer to consult on this endeavor.
The history, artist’s intent, treatment goals, and repair strategies developed by the team will be explained, followed by a discussion of the challenges of undertaking a lengthy and complex treatment using predominantly unskilled and semi-skilled labor.

Speakers Biography

Grace Cynkar, Historic Preservation Specialist, SWCA Environmental Consultants

Grace Cynkar is a Secretary of the Interior’s qualified historic preservation specialist and architectural historian with SWCA Environmental Consultants in Houston, Texas. She joined SWCA in May of 2011 after completing her M.S. degree in historic preservation at the University of Texas at Austin, where her thesis work focused on the use of GIS for hazard mitigation of historic resources. Grace also holds a B.A. from Rice University in English and Art History. Her projects at SWCA include Section 106 compliance, Federal Historic Preservation Tax Credits, and archival research and analysis. Grace is continuing her education in GIS and is interested in exploring how new technologies can be utilized for the documentation and advocacy of historic resources.

Joe Sembrat, President and Senior Conservator, Conservation Solutions, Inc.

Joe Sembrat has been immersed in the conservation field for over 14 years providing conservation assessments, design, and implementation of conservation treatments and lecturing on relevant topics in the field. His extensive experience in the treatment of masonry and metals led to the development and creation of the unique firm, Conservation Solutions, Inc. (CSI). Joe co-founded CSI with his wife, Julya, in 1999, with a goal excelling in the treatment of historic monuments and sculpture, industrial artifacts, and buildings. High-profile projects include artifacts from the salvaged R.M.S. Titanic wreck-site, such as the “Big Piece,” the conservation of two Saturn V rockets, the treatment of 12 sets of over life-sized bronze gates at the US Commerce Department Building in Washington, DC, and a nineteenth-century Cotton Gin facility located in Scott, Arkansas. Joe achieved his professional Associate status in AIC in 1996, Fellow status in 2007, and served as the Architectural Specialty Group Coordinator and Chair from 2000 to 2002.