When Liz Lidgett suggests you do something, you get it done. Liz Lidgett runs her own business, has a blog, manages art collections for individuals and companies, touches Picassos (this fact is unconfirmed), restores murals, socializes gracefully, writes columns for magazines and newspapers, outfits restaurants with great works of art, wins awards, and always looks great in photos. [She's truly amazing.] So when my truly amazing friend Liz Lidgett suggested I submit an art proposal for a project honoring Firehouse 1, I went for it.
And then I panicked a bit (in an excited way, obviously) when she called to say "You got it."
In 1940, a brand new firehouse was built down on Mulberry here in Des Moines. I know this because I touched the photos while wearing little white gloves. While it's very quiet, requires you to put all of your things in a teeny locker and has totally odd hours, the State Historical Museum's library is full of incredible resources. The Des Moines Social Club moved into Firehouse 1 late in 2013. So "fire.house," as I later named this project, was created to honor the new space's original use. (It makes sense. I promise.)
Up until 1995, every call, every blood pressure test and every firefighter was recorded by hand. That's right. Up until 1995 new recruits were drawing in the red lines of these leather bound ledgers, every call that Engine 1 or Pumper 7 went on-- recorded by hand in these books. Initially, I pitched Chief Giudicessi and amazing Liz the plan and thought a list would be generated and poof- we'd be in the installing phase. Instead I spent about 12 hours holed up at a desk in Station 6 pouring over 50+ years of handwritten ledgers.
Two things came out of this (well two things and one cold. Those books are dusty. See how that can be prevented in part 2):
1. Chief Giudicessi and the whole of the Des Moines Fire Department are kind and generous with their time. Although many of the men in Station 6 didn't quite understand why I spent two days in the back of the firehouse, they helped me lug books, get a more comfortable chair and shared with me why they miss the handwritten recording system. I gained such a deep appreciation for the department's history, which leads to part 2.
2. I now want to find a way to help the DMFD preserve that history. (If you've spoken to me in the last month, I probably talked too much about this- sorry.) If you are a museum lover, a historical nerd, or someone who wants to be an archival intern, call me. Oh. And if you have some glass cased shelving that would work to display helmets, books and other artifacts- call me. (Please?)
After the names were collected, Dad Lidgett and I began the construction process. Two ladders to frame the six historical panels. Dad Lidgett has all the tools. We power sawed, nail gunned, torched, drilled, glued, and power sanded. I wore safety goggles, a ponytail and a false sense of confidence. Dad Lidgett calming-dad-voiced me through it all.
[All the Lidgetts are amazing. It's in the genes. As evidenced by their extraordinary hospitality and the Lidgett pose.]
The ladders were wedged into my tiny Honda, sat in the hail by accident for about 5 minutes, were stained by me (sorry about the bit o stain on the driveway Wendy) and then made it into the old hose drying room of the new Des Moines Social Club. Dad Lidgett drilled into the brick walls, we stood back and smiled a lot and then, well then there it was.
There it was.
I've been a part of art shows before, back in college when I was still a little emo and drew pictures of beating hearts and kept journals of poems and took classes called "intermedia." I see my postcards pinned to bulletin boards of strangers and holiday cards I helped to create, but seeing this project come together was a new, proud experience for me. Above this little love letter to the firehouse, Gabriel Lueders created a really cool light fixture that has interactive moving parts and pulleys and a cotton jacket firehose that illuminates the teeny space in such a grand way.
Thanks to the amazing Liz Lidgett for the push and for believing that I could do something so outta my element and for helping me with all of this, truly all of it. Thanks to Dad Lidgett for the construction tools, advice and support. And for giving me safety goggles and reminding me to pay attention while I'm using the torch. Thanks to Chief Giudicessi and the DMFD for letting me into your homes and history.
Now. What's next?