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Vernacular architecture draws experts to Keweenaw

Graham Jaehnig/DMG Members of the Vernacular Architecture Forum took advantage of Thursday’s pleasant weather to tour the downtown district of the village of Calumet.

CALUMET — A scholarly organization called the Vernacular Architecture Forum (VAF) is conducting its 2024 conference in the Keweenaw Peninsula.

Sarah Fayen Scarlett, associate professor of History in the Social Sciences Department, at Michigan Technological University, is the chair of the VAF Conference Committee, and was a co-organizer and planner for this year’s event.

The VAF is a professional organization, founded in 1980, Scarlett said.

“It’s dedicated to the study of everyday places, everyday buildings and landscapes,” she explained, “so, not necessarily architecture with a capital A, designed by trained architects, but the kinds of buildings, streetscapes, sites that we all live our everyday lives in.”

Those can include houses, farms, commercial buildings and suburbs, workplaces and factories, said Scarlett.

The Keweenaw was chosen for this year’s conference because many of its historical buildings span a from the 1840s on into the late 20th century.

VAF membership is not reserved for a specific expertise either.

“Some people are academics who come from wide range of fields,” Scarlett said. “They are historians, art historians, architects, geographers, archaeologists, anthropologists and folklorists.”

There are also members who work professionally in historic preservation and other forms of cultural resources management.

The VAF holds in annual conference in a different region every year. This year, the Conference Committee chose the Keweenaw Peninsula. The theme of this year’s meeting is North of the Northwoods: From Mines to Motels on Michigan’s Lake Superior.

“By holding the annual meeting here,” Scarlett said, “our hope was to showcase the many varied and richly layered stories that are told in our landscape here.”

Scarlett’s recent book, Company Suburbs: Architecture, Power, and The Transformation of Michigan’s Mining Fronter, was awarded the Abbott Lowell Cummings Award from the Vernacular Architecture Forum ,and the Fred B. Kniffen Award from the International Society for Landscape, Place, and Material Culture.

Another area of Scarlett’s research explores the roles of digital spatial tools in community-engaged heritage projects. She co-direct the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)-sponsored historical GIS of the Copper Country called the Keweenaw Time Traveler, which asks “citizen historians” to contribute their own knowledge about landscape change over time and help process historical data. Keweenaw Time Traveler is a digital online atlas of Michigan’s Copper Country. Earlier this spring, the Keweenaw Time Traveler was recognized as a significant contribution to historic preservation efforts in the Keweenaw Peninsula. It was one of four Michigan preservation projects that earned the Governor’s Awards for Historic Preservation in May. The Keweenaw Time Traveler project was led by researchers and students from MTU’s Department of Social Sciences, Geospatial Research Facility and the Michigan Tech Archives, in collaboration with partners Monte Consulting, the Carnegie Museum of the Keweenaw and Keweenaw County Historical Society.

The 2024 FAV conference is from June 12-15, and includes a surface and mine tour at the Quincy Mine. Thursday included a presentation in the auditorium of the Calumet Theatre, featuring presentations by Keweenaw National Historical Park Supervisor Wendy Davis. Alison “Kim” Hoagland, Professor Emerita of Michigan Tech, was the keynote speaker, followed by and awards ceremony.

The afternoon was spent by VAF members touring the village of Calumet’s downtown district.

Friday’s events include tours of historical buildings in Eagle Harbor and Eagle River. Saturday’s events will be held at the Memorial Union Building (MUB) on the Michigan Technological University Campus

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