Raise High the Roof Beam


An old paper house on a new section of the Buffalo River Trail.

A Richtfest (“topping-out”) is an on-site ceremony to celebrate the construction of a new building once the roof beams are in place, except the central one; it’s set in as part of the event. At this point in the construction process, workers are being thanked with beer and lunch. A fir tree or wreath is decorated with ribbons and placed on the top beam. A speech by the owner or the lead carpenter reminds everyone of what has been accomplished and what is left to do.

The year is almost half over, so this may be a good time to pause and take a look at the last few months before I turn forward. It’s been busy. Last week, we held a small Richtfest of our own for my new studio—roof beams, (artificial) conifer, raised glasses, and speech included.

Richtfest short (1 of 1)

A German Richtfest in Hazel Valley. Fake tree, real sweat.

The studio is going to be a cozy but airy space: 160 square feet, high ceiling, French doors with an eastern view of Brannon Mountain, hardwood floor. I didn’t have to build the entire thing; two walls and the floor were already there, as my studio is being carved out from Don’s large studio. He’s a generous man in so many different ways, donating space and time and labor to help me set up a room of my own. I’m not using that phrase lightly. The importance of such a room, a private place for an artist to sustain her creative path, cannot be overstated. I look forward to a lot of writing, thinking, experimenting, reading, translating, photo-editing, planning, making sets and photographing them, daydreaming, listening to music … all the activities that make up my professional life now.

I also need this place so I can bring back thoughts and images from off-site projects. During the spring, I made several trips to Tyler Bend, which served as base camp for hikes and explorations along the Buffalo National River. On one, I was interviewed by Chris Engholm for his documentary on Ken Smith, the acknowledged authority on conservation and trail building in the National River area. Another morning, over coffee at the campground, we were discussing Chris’ project about the Preller family of photographers in Augusta, and I ended up translating a 1938 letter in beautiful German Sütterlin script from the sister of Hugo Preller, who had gone to the US decades earlier and not seen his German family since.

chris & sabine 2016 mod for web

Decoding an old German letter written in Sütterlin, an obsolete script. My grandmother taught me how to read and write it.

A few weeks later, I hiked new and soon-to-be-completed sections of the trail with Ken and watched him do his work with a clipboard and a modified bicycle wheel as distance counter. We got caught in a massive thunderstorm and crouched in the wilderness for a while to make us less vulnerable to lightning  (lots of thoughts, no images during that experience). We lived to tell the tale around the proverbial campfire at Tyler Bend that evening. Ken stayed on the Buffalo to finish mapping trail sections; I returned to Hazel Valley and the layout and maquette for my new studio. I sized up the freshly delivered stack of sheetrock, two-by-fours, and plywood, and then it began …


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