Each morning around five, the crew of roughly 150 workers begins its day on the roof of the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries building. From below, the building doesn’t look like much. Under construction since 2004, the historic structure is jacketed in scaffolding. Tourists skirt around the building, looking for the carousel perhaps. But Debbie Maynard can’t imagine being anywhere else.
“Everyone loves working here,” says Maynard, “because of the historical meaning.” She takes care to point out the original brick, finials and steel frames. Completed in 1881, the building has aged gracefully. Here and there, bricks crumble into pieces and the statues all had to be removed and restored. The project even won an award for its scaffolding craftsmanship.
Friday morning, the ironworkers took a break in their busy schedule to recreate a historic photograph taken 106 years earlier. Maynard says every now and then someone will go home and search for information about the building, finding old images from its construction. A black and white image of workers installing roofing made its way to work and the crew decided they wanted to create their own moment in history.
It’s humid and only getting worse as the men lose valuable time in the morning cool, but they pose patiently. One jokes, “Didn’t those guys have pipes in the picture? We should have cigarettes.” No such luck.
As soon as the photographer has snapped his shots, General Foreman Scott Christensen yells, “Back to work!”
A whiteboard sits on the ground floor of the building displaying a growing collection of portraits of the workers. Maynard says they like to stop by and see if “they’ve made the board,” because they like being part of the building’s history. In the bottom right corner is the black and white photo that inspired Friday’s shoot.
As Project Engineer, Maynard is up on the roof every day. For now, the renovation plans only involve the exterior of the building. Those are expected to be completed in March 2013. But as for the inside, she just laughs. There’s no plan in place yet but she’s crossing her fingers that when there is one, she’ll be back again as Project Engineer.
Read more about the building’s history and recent renovations.