By Jim Buckley, VAF President
I’m excited to start my term as VAF President, especially given the great work of the board in recent years to put the organization in great shape! Our new monthly format for VAN will make it hard to keep up, but I’ll try to add organizational updates as often as possible…
In the spirit of our recent conference being held onscreen, I’d like to make this column a kind of rolling credits to close out the action-packed feature we just experienced. First of all, we have to recognize our producer, director, and chief bottle-washer Brent Fortenberry, who signed up to hold an in-person conference in San Antonio last year and has now put on two virtual conferences before he even gets to welcome us to Texas next year! Brent’s organizational and technical skill are unmatched, and we appreciate the hard work of the many folks who worked to keep the VAF conference on track during these pandemic days, especially Michelle Jones and David Bergstone (conference website and registration) and the Texas A&M students who took virtual tickets and staffed events behind the scenes.
Brent also co-organized the plenary session on fieldwork, which prompted great discussion about current and future practices. Our appreciation to Elaine Stiles, Danielle Wilkins, Sarah Lopez, and Arijit Sen for serving as our anchors for this conversation. The lively conversation in the breakout room “afterparty” indicates that this will be a lively topic at future meetings. Brent and I are planning a written follow-up with our speakers and others in a future issue of Buildings & Landscapes. Thanks also to our breakout room hosts for making things seem a little more normal and helping us keep the business of VAF busy: Kim Hoagland (New Books), Michael Chiarappa and Lydia Mattice Brandt (Buildings and Landscapes), Tom Carter (Special Series), Louis Nelson (Special Series), Marcia Miller and Jeff Klee (proposed Tidewater Chapter), Nicole Benjamin-Ma and Peter Michaud (longtime New England Chapter).
Saturday served as our paper session day, even online, and I heard Richard Longstreth say that he had not heard so many good papers in a long time (strong praise indeed!). I agree with him, so many thanks to our Papers Committee of Sally McMurray, Myron Stachiw, and Ken Hafertepe for corralling and arranging such terrific research to present at the conference. Going above and beyond again was our cool cat Phil Gruen, who put together another groovy session of hip posters and with-it poster makers. I served as online host for an impressive poster by an architect from India, who stayed up till the middle of the night to show us her poster on some amazing decorated houses by an ethnic group in central India. If VAF can go to Jamaica and the Gaspe, why not South Asia?
The heart of our banquet is always the revealing of award winners for books, fieldwork, and all around VAF-ness. Congrats to our winners and to all those whose work was submitted to the award committees, and tips of several hats to our many members who serve as judges. It seemed impossible to match the usual warmth of this event in virtual space but the amazing Maire O’Neill and Lydia Mattice Brant showed their inner cinematographers in the wonderfully-edited video of prizes and prizewinners. Their next feature will be a partnership with Ken Burns entitled “Vernacular America: The Bus Tour of a Nation.”
Of course, no VAF conference is complete without the stirring presentation of highlights from the NEXT conference, and Ken Hafertepe had the crowd on its feet ready to two-step in Texas with his description of the tours and events around San Antonio in 2022. Ken forgot to wear his lederhosen but I’m sure he will oblige us with full costume when he leads us in the polka as we tour the Hill Country.
Finally, and most important, I was happy to make sure that our now Past President Claire Dempsey received the equivalent of an auditorium-filled standing ovation for her brave handling of the COVID crisis and keeping us from pandemic panic. Claire (who made darned sure there was a peaceful transfer of power at the end of her term), the Executive Committee, the full board, and all those who pitched in over the last year and a half not only kept us going but also blazed new paths by introducing the Mellon African American Field Schools program and preparing us for the long-sought paid staff person we’ve been after for years. More on those activities in upcoming issues, but for now, thanks and congrats to all!