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Conservation technician Kirsten Travers works with a bottle of water and razor to peel paint from the walls.
This horse with a strangely elongated neck is one
They may have been good soldiers, but they couldn't draw worth a hoot.
While removing paint from the walls of Brandy Station's Graffiti House in Culpeper County this weekend, conservation technician Kirsten Travers uncovered a horse with a neck that would seem more appropriate attached to a brontosaurus.
The 31-year-old Travers, an art school graduate, had to laugh.
"This is funny," she said.
Travers is working under a $15,000 Virginia Department of Human Resources grant the Brandy Station Foundation received earlier this month.
The matching grant, according to Della Edrington of the BSF, will allow the foundation to bring in experts such as Travers to determine what restoration works need to be done to save both the Graffiti House and the dozens of charcoal and graphite scribblings on its inside walls.
That graffiti, which includes the names, military units and hometowns of a number of the soldiers who were housed there when the structure was used as a field hospital, is a part of Civil War and Culpeper County history that the BSF desperately wants to preserve.
"I'm lucky to be working on projects like these where soldiers stood and wrote," said Travers.
She turned and looked out the window.
"And except for that highway, I am looking at almost exactly the same sights that those soldiers did."
With a plastic squirt bottle of water and a single-edged razor blade, Travers is slowly peeling back layers of paint.
Friday she even uncovered the bust of a derby-clad man with a striking resemblance to W.C. Fields who has a dialogue bubble above his head that reads: "I smell a rebel."
Perhaps not so coincidentally, another soldier has drawn the rear end of a horse (or mule/jackass) that is almost in the man's face. The soldiers who convalesced here after the Battle of Brandy Station in the summer of 1863 may have lost limbs, but their sense of humor was apparently still intact.
Travers is working only with paint--her specialty--and is taking special care to leave the plaster (on which the graffiti is actually written) to be studied by a specialist in that field.
"There are cracks in some of the plaster and I don't want to do anything to cause it to crumble," she said.
She is quick to admit, however, that she would love to return and assist whoever restores the plaster.
In a few places, there are three layers of paint over the graffitied plaster.
Since buildings with Civil War graffiti are extremely rare, so are technicians like Travers.
"I've checked around and I can't find anyone else in the United States that does what I do," she said.
Graffiti houses are so rare, in fact, that this is only the second one Travers has worked on during her 11-year career. The other was in Fairfax, and that's where Edrington discovered her.
"We planned to have her come down here as soon as the grant officially came through," said Edrington.
Although graffiti houses like the one in Brandy Station thoroughly excite Travers, she obviously can't make a living from such occasional jobs.
In the past several years she has worked on a number of other different but highly specialized projects, including restoring a Saturn 5 rocket for NASA in Houston. This fall she will be part of a similar Saturn 5 restoration project at NASA's Huntsville, Ala., facility.
Before that, however, there is the challenge of the Brandy Station job and a graffiti-house project in Edinburg.
"The new owners had just redone the whole house when a former resident showed up on their doorstep one day and asked, 'Hey! Do you know about all that Civil War graffiti on the walls?'" Travers said with a smile.
She is a woman who loves her work, and Edrington and the BSF are glad they found her.
"After she finishes we will have a better idea what we are dealing with," said Edrington. "When we have a full assessment of what is needed, then we can work on applying for actual restoration grants."
And, Edrington stresses, time is critical because of the age of the plaster and the fact that trains rumble through all day on the Norfolk Southern tracks about 30 yards from the house.
Travers, who uncovered about 20 square feet of wall on Friday alone, will complete her work on Tuesday.
Within the next month the BSF will be putting together engineering proposals in order to prepare a complex architectural report. That will be submitted to state and federal authorities so the preservation group can apply for restoration grants.
The Graffiti House, with only parts of its walls exposed, opened in 2002 and now serves as an information center for the Brandy Station battlefield.Donnie Johnston: