Southeast student preserves Kent Library history
Southeast senior Peter Reckling used his knack for furniture restoration to preserve original Kent Library furniture over the summer.
Reckling, a historic preservation major, spent two months preserving 10 pieces of historic Kent Library furniture including multiple tables and desks, a display case and two chairs.
“I’ve always been fond of the built environment,” Reckling said. “I think old houses have such a character and a nuance, something that can’t be replicated in today’s architecture.”
In his third year as a student worker for special collections and archives at Kent Library, Reckling noticed university artifacts especially older pieces sitting around collecting dust.
“Where did these pieces come from? Are they original? Did somebody just bring them in?” Reckling asked.
His curiosity erupted into a summer of restoring original Kent Library furniture in the Polytechnic Building, some pieces more than 100 years old.
“We recognized there are some really old pieces around the building, but we didn’t know quite how old,” special collections and archives librarian Roxanne Dunn said. “That’s when Peter came and we were able to have his expertise in the building.”
Reckling said it is important to preserve history because it shows pride in where we came from. He learned from his father how to restore furniture.
“We had a bunch of old family pieces that sat in our basement, and I always thought, ‘Is there something else we could do with them? Let’s make them pretty again,’” Reckling said.
Reckling restored a display table for Kent Library that had been used for exhibits since 1920.
The piece can be found in the main lobby of Kent Library, positioned in front of the wall memorial.
Original to the opening of Kent Library, in1939 two chairs restored by Reckling exist along with 14 others, but were purchased as an order of 250.
Reckling compiled a brief history on the furniture pieces using university archives, photographs and descriptions. Many of the furniture pieces are made tiger oak.
“I think it’s important for us to preserve these things and to do what we can to take care of them,” Kent Library dean Barbara Glackin said. “These pieces can’t be recreated.”
A table constructed of walnut once housed at the Wildwood building in 1924, formally the President’s home until Bill Stacy’s presidency, caught Reckling’s attention beginning his role of preserving Kent Library history.
The table displayed water stains, sunbaked wood and marks of spray paint.
“It was just looking rough and we had it on display,” Reckling said. “I thought that it was not something we should have on display. We should actually make this look nice again, especially if it’s a piece on university history.”
Reckling began working a few months after mentioning his skill set to Dunn and archival assistant at special collections and archives Tyson Koenig spending 20 hours a week on each piece.
“He is literally the jack-of-all-trades,” Dunn said. “My coworker Tyson and I talk about [how] everyday we learn a new skill that Peter has.”
Reckling said his favorite piece of furniture to restore was the desk that belonged to the library’s first librarian and namesake Sadie Kent.
There was a lot of rumors on whether the piece of furniture was Kent’s. Nearly auctioned off, Reckling refinished the desk finding a paper attached with markings of 1906 and the initials “S.K.” on it. The date corresponds with the opening of Academic Hall where the library once was.
“When the pieces started coming back after Peter had worked his magic on them, it was just like ‘Oh my gosh, this is just huge now,’” Glackin said.
The restored pieces of furniture are on display throughout Kent Library.
Reckling has plans to restore more historic Kent Library furniture during the winter session then continuing the following summer. A future project will include four original reading-room tables.
“It just means a lot to me personally, knowing that I saved these pieces considering they have sat for nearly a decade in storage,” Reckling said.
He plans to move to St. Louis following graduation in May 2019 to pursue neighborhood revitalization to create affordable housing while maintaining character-defining features of old homes.