In Memoriam: Vincent Scully
Since his passing last week, much has been written about Vincent Scully – the renowned architectural historian and Yale University professor – including his contributions to the field of historic preservation. When I was Vice President of Historic Sites at the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the 1990’s, I had the good luck to work with Mr. Scully, who was a Trustee of the National Trust at the time. We all looked forward to his spot-on comments on interpretive and conservation issues at the sites, which, for all his celebrity, were always delivered in a collaborative and non-polemical way. Scully and his wife, Catherine Lynn—known to all as Vince and Tappy— were valued members of the Trust’s historic sites family.
When I came to the World Monuments Fund, I was assigned to work on the conservation of a multiple dwelling at Taos Pueblo in New Mexico. Like everyone else, I was fascinated by the sight of the plastic, stacked shapes of the pueblo’s adobe buildings, arrayed on a plain with the Taos Mountain towering behind them. I remembered that Mr. Scully had written about pueblos and checked to see what he had to say. As I might have expected, he brought it home for me with his observation that the form of the pueblo “echoes the mountain and abstracts it to the measure of human units.” Exactly the case with my multiple dwelling.
Scully once told The New Yorker that “nobody liked nineteenth-century architecture, but it spoke to me, because it was part of my background—I understood it. My aim was to rehabilitate it…bring back great areas of human experience that have been jettisoned. Everything in the past is always waiting, waiting to detonate.”
Truer words have never been said. We celebrate and honor the impact Vincent Scully had on historic preservation, a legacy that no doubt will continue to inspire generations to come.