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Guild promotes restoration arts and artisans

Saturday, February 15, 2003

By Bob Batz Jr., Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Youss Kadri is not only a gilder, but also a guilder. nn He was one of the first invited to be part of the new Western Pennsylvania Craftsmen's Guild. The nonprofit group, started a little more than a month ago, states its purpose as being "to preserve historic crafts and landmarks by showcasing master artisans with years of experience."

Kadri has made a name for himself through picture frame and furniture restoration work and architectural jobs such as the ceiling design in the Victorian home of Gary and Donna Otto in Allegheny West. (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette)

The Western Pennsylvania Craftsmen's Guild can be reached at http://www.westpenncraftguild.com/ or 412-784-8015. The group also will have a booth at the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation's Old House Fair on Feb. 22 at Victoria Hall in Bloomfield.

It gathers and presents the artisans on a Web site, http://www.westpenncraftguild.com/. It's a simple online referral service meant to benefit consumers (for whom it is free) as well as the artisans (who pay a fee and dues). Currently there are a total of 11 different craftsmen.

"These are the top people in their fields," says Jerry Wilson. His Wilson & McCracken architectural millwork and fine furniture in the Strip District is listed under the woodworking category.

The other categories are architectural plastering, art glass, brass plating, carpentry, faux finishing, gilding, hardware restoration, murals, slate roofing, stripping/refinishing and wallcoverings.

Each category is represented by just one artisan or company, but that could expand, as could the categories, Wilson says. "We're not sure where it's headed."

The guild was an idea that he tossed out to some fellow craftsmen about a year and a half ago. They liked it so much they joined him in becoming founding members: George Starz (stripping/refinishing) and brothers David Kelly (carpentry) and John Kelly (art glass).

The guild is based on similar groups elsewhere but apparently is the first here for what Wilson defines as the "restoration trade arts." Craftspeople who want to join must be nominated by a guild member and then must pass screening by the four core members based on their years of experience, portfolios and references. Most members already knew each other from working on some of the same big projects, such as the King Mansion pictured on the Web site.

"Right now, we're kind of being careful," says Wilson, who acknowledges that the group wants only the "cream of the crop," in both members and in the kind of work they most want to take on.

That way, the guild can assure clients they're finding top-notch talent. Part of the value to the talent is that clients can find them at all. Telephone book listings can be too general or too crowded, and many craftsmen don't have their own Web sites. But that's not the only difficulty, Wilson says.

"Sometimes, when homeowners find [craftsmen who are] really well qualified, they actually keep them secret. They treat them like some coveted rare find."

That, he says, is "terrible for everybody. Craftsmen have to be kept busy in their craft for their craft to stay alive."

The guild also aims to foster a community among the craftsmen, and already, "It's been really well received for the little bit of publicity."

This new guild is not to be confused with the more visual arts-oriented Craftsmen's Guild of Pittsburgh, which has about 150 artist members and which promotes fine crafts in the Western Pennsylvania region (www.craftsmensguild.org).

But like that group, this one is not all men. The McCracken in Wilson & McCracken is Wilson's partner, Vicki, the shop foreman whose specialty happens to be doing work that is "really intense or dangerous."

About the "Craftsmen" in the group's name, Wilson says, "She hasn't mentioned anything."

Bob Batz Jr. can be reached at bbatz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1930.

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