North Country at Work: Keene Valley as canvas; Marcy Neville on the art of house painting
October 16, 2018 – Marcy Neville works on a much larger scale than most artists. If you’ve driven through Keene Valley, you know their job. If you live there, there is a good chance your home was one of their canvases. That’s because Marcy paints homes – indoors and outdoors – and historic buildings.
Marcy Neville, house painter and historic building painter, paints the clock tower of Keene Valley Congregational Church at work. June 2012. Keene Valley, NY. Photo: Courtesy of Marcy Neville
Getting in and out of house painting
Marcy “fell into” house painting in her twenties. She worked as a jeweler and sold unique pieces across the northeast, but when the price of silver skyrocketed, she took on some odd jobs painting houses to increase her income. She eventually switched to house painting all day.
When she got tired of house painting, Marcy went back to school for a degree in landscape architecture, which led to a position as the town of Moriah planner working on economic development. About ten years after working as a planner, Marcy was feeling restless. The work became more and more bureaucratic and she began to dream:
“I started thinking about how I could be more outside and not sitting in front of a computer and going to conferences all the time … and went back to painting inside!”
She says that the job has many advantages and that it is great for a single woman.
“Flexibility with your schedule, and if you’re someone who likes to work hard and do physical labor and be outside a lot, that’s great. It’s a beautiful place to do that. And it really pays off well.”
She never suffered for work; In fact, there are usually more jobs out there than she can handle. And she says she really appreciates the monotony of the work: “Monotony is a way of letting your mind do something else. I don’t have to see the paint dry, I know what I’m doing!”
Interior of Keene Valley Congregational Church, painted in 2013. Keene Valley, NY. Photo: Courtesy of Marcy Neville
In addition to her regular house painting appearances, Marcy made a name for herself by painting historical buildings and structures. These are often anything but monotonous; She has worked on centuries-old bell towers, old church towers and church interiors and even waterproofed an old furnace in Tawawus. She says when she became known to some contractors and they saw how meticulous their work was, they started giving her jobs.
Through historical work and painting older homes, Marcy has become an expert on local builders and craftsmen, even those long dead.
“Carlos White has a certain type of window covering, and Eli Montgomery Crawford cuts his clapboard in a certain way and you start to see them. And it’s always interesting to talk to the people who own them because they do quite a lot have been with their families since the 19th century and they know the whole story. That was fun. ”
Marcy is a skilled glazier of old windows, a skill most modern painters fail to develop. Historical buildings and restorations are just right for her because she really enjoys doing tricky detail work.
“I really like to paint sashes! I don’t like very precise painting.”
The Neville “Big House” will be painted in June 2008. Keene Valley, NY. Photo: Courtesy of Marcy Neville
Working on a large and dangerous scale
Marcy loves the little things, but she also has to work big. For larger houses and special projects, she relies on elevators, which she believes have revolutionized house painting. She shows me a photo of an old church and explains that she and her crew needed three different elevators – a 60-foot, a 40-foot, and a 25-foot elevator to get high enough. She prefers elevators to ladders – “They won’t fall out from under you!” But they also have their own challenges:
“They’re tremendously heavy, so you can’t go over a sewer, you’ll just disappear. And you can’t hit wires, you will get an electric shock if you hit any wires! Wires is difficult.”
She rarely asks her crew to move the elevators into position and prefers to do it herself. She says it’s a delicate dance and not one that you can afford to go wrong.
The Episcopal Church in Malone, with Marcy Neville painted interior beams in the tower and exterior windows. August 2011. Photo: Courtesy Marcy Neville
Marcy Neville paints the interior staircase at the Adirondack History Center in Elizabethtown. March 2012. Photo: Courtesy Marcy Neville
A unique perspective
Marcy’s work has taken her to places most people will never visit. to the peaks of church towers and the interiors of old stone buildings. She says the view from her “office window” is constantly changing and is much higher than most. She is on elevators or climbing rickety scaffolding. She remembers a specific job where she painted the Keene Valley Congregational Church’s bell tower in the summer of 2012. She had to scrape and repaint the clock hands and carefully restore the dial. Each number was hand painted on the glass. But the really magical part was the machinery that no one could really see.
“To get inside the bell tower you had to climb a rather rickety ladder inside the church. And the gears for this clock are all made of wood. You can only see them when you get inside the bell tower really an amazing machine. ”
Marcy has memories of every building she’s worked on.
“I’m getting to know these buildings. I look at every square inch.”
Corrosion protection of the cooler of the Macintyre oven in Tahawus in July 2007. Photo: Courtesy of Marcy Neville