Preserving Legacy

Calligraphy by Jane Ewing.

The story of legacy at Westwind is always unfolding – this time in the atrium of our Grand Haven building.  During renovation we took great care to preserve the historic industrial character and we have carried on that spirit with a collection of industrial-era pieces displayed throughout our finished building.  Our most recent addition was a safe door collected by Greg and Jeanine.  It was an extensive process to bring this door back to its former glory, but with the help of talented calligrapher Jane Ewing, we did it.  Learn the story from her perspective:

“I was commissioned this past December to restore and to make legible letters and images that were pressed in metal.  They were on a narrow panel of a century-old safe that has been restored by powder-coating, which covered the gold letters and decorative designs with black paint.  The original images, now barely visible, were cast in shallow relief on a three-inch-wide by fifty-five-inch-long metal panel that was bolted onto the door of the massive thirty-inch by six-and a-half-foot safe door.  The safe was salvaged by Greg and Jeanine Oleszczuk, owners of Westwind Construction, who repurposed the Challenge Machinery manufacturing facility, an historically significant manufacturing plant built in 1903 in Grand Haven, Michigan.  In their building’s remodeled modern atrium, they caringly display the safe with other vintage industrial artifacts once used in the local industrial community.

After the completion of the black powder coating restoration—which removed ages old built-up layers of dirt and rust, but nearly effaced the decoration—Jeanine noticed under the fresh paint barely visible, faint letters and patterns, admired them, envisioned them as they would have been when the safe was new, and searched for someone who could refurbish the images that were now visible only in relief.  She contacted the Grand Haven Tri-Cities Historical Museum in search of a calligrapher who might be able to restore the delicate images to highlight their decorative appeal.  They referred her to me.

I visited the safe and assessed that the transformation might be possible.  This extraordinary project gave me the opportunity to rethink my calligraphy and work on a script in an unusual way. Greg unbolted the panel from the safe door so I could take it to my studio.  Though long, heavy, and cumbersome to carry, I was able to place the substantial piece on my drafting table to study under fluorescent light what was revealed of the images.  Laying it horizontally and securing it on a leather strip so it wouldn’t wobble was all important.  To more accurately decipher the design and letters that read “Diebold Safe and Lock Co, Canton O,” I taped strips of rice paper on the raised images and rubbed over them with a graphite stick, which resulted in a graphic impression, although not a clear one.  I planned to refer to the impressions as I painted along the metal ridges that formed the images.

Another task was to test and determine the appropriate pigment and writing tools that could be used for good effect on a metal surface.  I hoped to bring back the images to their original glory, but I didn’t want this vintage safe to look as if it were painted yesterday.  I contacted the company that made the safe, Diebold Safe and Lock, and was told by the keeper of archives that gold paint was used on black safes, such as this one.  It would have been helpful to see official photographs of original designs and lettering that were traditional in the past, but those were not in their records.  I talked with safe restoration experts to learn what paint they use on metal.

Once underway, I asked Jeanine to visit my studio to see if she thought that my efforts were progressing well.  Her enthusiastic approval encouraged me and gave me assurance to continue.  Greg and Jeanine were pleased with the outcome and appreciative of my contribution to this unique project.  The remarkable historic safe door is displayed in the three-story glass atrium at the Oleszczuk’s Westwind Construction office.  A collection of salvaged industrial artifacts that were used in the manufacturing plants of eastside Grand Haven in years long gone are also exhibited, as if in a museum, for the public to appreciate and enjoy.”

Jane Ewing poses with the finished product.