A historic process – one much older even than the structure – was used to restore the original appearance of the iconic brick tower built by A.P. Anderson nearly a century ago at his Tower View Estate.
Max Cora and Brian Sobaski, sculptors and conservators, were hired this fall to recreate the lattice work and geometric patterns on the outside and underside of the tower’s balcony. They previously teamed up to work on the center’s main residence a few years ago, when Cora had a studio on campus.
Painting was the final step in restoration of the tower, a process that began in 2016 to address problems related to drainage.
The lattice work was part of the original construction of the tower, which was completed nearly 100 years ago. It likely was done by itinerant “church painters,” according to Cora.
The original paint job did not last. Within a decade or so, Anderson had covered it with metal cladding.
As they researched the history of the tower to make sure everything was historically accurate, officials were able to recreate architectural plans and specs based on black and white archival photographs.
Then, in the process of restoring the tower, officials found some of the original 1920s paint chips. Those remnants were matched to determine a final color, which was approved by a Minnesota State Historical Society panel.
Cora, who comes from a family of hand painters, had materials and expertise to apply an old technique called pouncing. Developed by Michelangelo, pouncing is an art technique used to transfer an image from one surface to another. Similar to tracing, it is useful for creating copies of a sketch outline.
Basically, Cora said, the process involves poking tiny holes and brushing them with willow powder.
“That’s how they used to do it in the ‘20s until they invented computer technology,” he said. He “pounced” the patterns to create an outline.
“It was lots of upside-down and overhead work,” Cora said.
“We laid it out by hand,” Sobaski said, “old style, with rules and string. The whole upper tower and underside was a giant coloring book.”
“It’s really romantic to pull out the old tools” to recreate the patterns, Cora said. “It felt like absolutely the right thing to do.”
Using the right paint was critical, according to Sobaski and Cora. The job required a modern paint with binding technology. It seals but allows the elements to contract and could prolong the life of the structure for another century.
The painters worked almost every day for a month to get the task completed during fall’s nice weather.
Painting was the finishing touch on restoration of the tower, which had drainage problems that contributed to deterioration. Sloped floors and improved drain spouts helped rid the balcony of water instead of allowing it to pool.
Grants were received from the state historical society for the initial conditions report and for a portion of the repairs and painting. Private donations covered the rest of the expense.
Tower View Estate was established between 1915 and 1921 as a working farm. It has served a variety of uses in recent decades, and is listed in the Nation Register of Historic Places. The windowed rotunda at the top of the tower was meant as a place for Anderson’s wife to host teas.
Since 1995 the Anderson Center has functioned as an artist community playing host to writers, artists and scholars for several months a year.
Many of them have found the iconic tower’s rotunda to be an especially peaceful place to work. “This is one of the few buildings on campus that doesn’t have Wi-Fi,” Rogers said. That makes it ideal for anyone “trying to really unplug and force yourself to focus.”
An estimated 21,000 motorists see it from Highway 61 each day. The tower gives a panoptic view of the 350-acre estate and woodlands.
Working on the tower project over the years and poring over old photographs has been exciting, Rogers said. “It feels like that black and white photo has come to life now. Everyone can see the tower the way AP originally intended it to be seen.”