Notes from the Board: Susan De Vries
May 18, 2016 | by Susan De Vries, Board Member
Article from the Spring 2016 Newsletter
To be honest, I wasn’t planning on ending up in New York City after college. But after a summer attending the Preservation Institute: Nantucket program, where I received an intensive overview of historic preservation practice and policy, I started looking at master’s programs in historic preservation. Although ending up in New York at Columbia University was not what I originally intended, I now can’t imagine my career any differently.
My introduction to New York would not have been the same if I hadn’t been fortunate enough to receive an internship at the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) in the 1990s. There I received my early lessons on the history of the preservation movement in New York and the importance of building documentation as well as an introduction to key figures in the early years of preservation. Greenwich Village was a hotbed of preservation activity and I was fortunate that during my time at GVSHP many of those prominent in the movement were still active and interested in sharing their stories. Doris Diether, Margot Gayle, Shirley Hayes, and Verna Small—all were women who did so much to ensure that the character and built environment of the Village survived. It was not only their memories of preservation losses and victories but also their work documenting New York City that engaged my imagination. Their collections of images and clippings conveyed so much about what the City was like when the preservation movement gained traction in the 1950s and ’60s. I was already a lover of archives and libraries, but these personal collections showed how many neighborhood stories could be lost if these precious materials disappeared. I have so many fond memories of visiting Villagers in amazing tucked away spaces and hearing their stories of what New York meant to them—stories always tied to particular buildings and spaces.
I also had the pleasure of helping to gather and tend to the slides (yes, slides) during the early “dog and pony” lectures on the history of preservation given by Anthony C. Wood and Vicki Weiner. I remember digging for images of pigs at protests, sorting through file drawers of amazing materials at the Jefferson Market Library, taping up slides, and changing slide projector bulbs. Participating in these early lectures gave me a valuable understanding of the context of preservation in New York. This experience helped launch me into my current work as a preservation consultant and informed my 10 years as director of the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum.
In 2008, I joined the New York Preservation Archive Project’s board and have enjoyed working with board members who come to preservation from diverse backgrounds but share a passion for preserving stories. I have particularly loved being part of the Archival Assistance Fund Grant Committee. Over the course of two grant cycles, funding from the program has given crucial support to small organizations attempting to deal with their collections. I find this to be a wonderful way to circle back to my early introduction to preservation in New York when I saw first-hand collections that were integral to understanding the history of the movement. Now in my role as an Archive Project board member, I am, in a small way, able to assist with the preservation of these collections.