An Autumn Accent: Gold Leaf

Nobody quite remembers when the portico ceilings outside Memorial Church were last tended. They're easy to miss, if you're not in the habit of looking up. Refreshed with new paint and gold leaf this fall, they are now particularly worthy of attention. "The Reverend [Gomes] is very happy," says property manager Daniel Murphy, who oversees work at the church, where the last two summers have seen the exterior entirely repainted. Architectural decorative artists restored the portico ceiling while the finishing touches--gold leaf for the massive weathervane atop the church--were being added by Robert Levesque Jr., a second-generation steeplejack. Levesque last gilded the weathervane in 1988, like his father before him in 1975. Levesque uses oversize chimney jacks made especially for this steeple to secure the scaffolding. His father used standard, smaller jacks that had to be stabilized with come-alongs, an assembly that the son remembers as precarious. Even so, when Levesque lassoes the massive weathervane--which is five feet high and eight feet wide and requires eight rolls of Italian gold leaf ($350 a roll) to gild--it can catch a breeze and set the steeple and scaffold silently rocking together--265 feet above the ground.

Back on earth, in the realm of the freshman residence halls, new students arrived with their belongings. The unfortunate occupants of a fourth-floor Stoughton Hall room, having settled in, were discommoded when their ceiling collapsed in a hail of plaster and dust. Stoughton and neighboring Hollis Hall were evacuated, and Loker Commons was fitted with cots to house the displaced first-years. No one was seriously hurt in the incident and--after fevered work by engineers, who identified faulty nails as the culprit--the ceiling was repaired and the freshmen reinstalled, all in just two days.

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