WOMEN INBUSINESS: New Millennium – Preserving the past for the future

SUTTONS BAY – On a table in their studio lies a rubber mold reproduction of ornamental architectural plaster work that was once part of writer Ernest Hemingway’s birthplace in Oak Park, Ill.

From their home just south of Suttons Bay, Jacqueline Beeken and Dayton Spence operate New Millennium Inc., a company specializing in interior decorative restoration and preservation for historical structures, as well as contemporary ones.

This summer’s project is a 10-week-long stint at the Providence Performing Arts Center in Rhode Island. Saved from the wrecking ball in 1976, the 1927 atmospheric theater is having its grand lobby restored with original colors, designs, gold leafing and faux techniques. Company artisans began right after the curtain closed on “Rent” and will finish just before the opening of “Riverdance” in early September.

With her background in art and business, Beeken specializes in the moldmaking for architectural plaster restoration and handles all the business aspects of the company, including the bidding on potential projects. Spence holds a master of fine arts in painting and focuses on the mural and fine arts painting projects. He also supervises work at the various job sites.

The pair first met while working for the former Burdco Group of Traverse City, and married four years ago. When Burdco split back in 1995, Beeken was vice president of the Chicago regional office and Spence was vice president of Burdco Group’s restoration/preservation division in Traverse City.

“We basically were ‘the division,’ so it was easy to take it over,” Beeken said. “We had a good foothold before starting New Millennium.”

When the two were with Burdco, they worked on the restoration of the Traverse City Opera House and, on their own, have done some work in the Central Methodist Church in Traverse City. But most of their projects are elsewhere in the state and across the country.

“Our first major project, actually, was the St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Sault Ste. Marie,” she said.

Built in 1880, the church is the third oldest congregation in the United States. Among the restoration done was marbleizing; graining; 23K gold leafing; tromp l’oeil painting, which fools the eye into believing that a flat painted surface is a real object; and ornamental architectural plaster repair.

Also restored by Spence and his painting team was a 250-year-old painting of the Madonna and Child.

The painting was brought to America by Bishop Frederic Baraga, a Roman Catholic missionary who became the first bishop of Upper Michigan in 1853. The oil painting had been stored in the church basement since 1950 and took approximately 240 hours to restore and preserve. It now hangs in the nave of the cathedral.

Restoration of old buildings in the United States is a rather new art, Beeken said, adding that the “tear down” during the 1950s and ’60s depleted the nation of many historic structures. Some of those that survived demolition are now in need of repair.

“The United States is just getting old enough buildings to restore,” Beeken commented. “There are some very active preservation leagues in this country now.”

But occasionally, their work takes them to other continents, where restoration and preservation is a long-standing tradition. The company has worked in Moscow, and has an on-going consulting project in Thailand for an elaborate, 40-room palace. If the company is awarded that project, they would be in Thailand for three years, Beeken said.

“We really feel that restoration can be a lot more affordable than other companies make it out to be,” Beeken said. “There are no secrets to restoration. It takes a lot of skill and people willing to learn new things.”

She feels the company has an advantage because it’s small and has a low overhead, making it very competitive in the bidding process.

New Millennium employs a small group of artisans year-round, but also utilizes the talents of people who live where the restoration project is being done. When the firm was hired for a preservation job at the St. Joseph County Courthouse in Centerville, Mich., Beeken hired two local women for some of the stenciling work. Presently working on the Rhode Island project are two students from the Rhode Island School of Design.

As a female-owned business, Beeken said she always tries to have as many women as she can on a particular project. Among her professional associations, Beeken is a member of the National Federation of Women Business Owners and serves on the board for the National Association of Women in Construction.

Beeken feels strongly that part of their job as a restoration and preservation company is sharing their work with community members so people can appreciate and support the project.

To help a particular organization, such as a church or theater, with fundraising, the company offers free gold leaf and rag rolling classes for free, allowing the organization to charge a fee and keep all proceeds. They also encourage the public, especially children, to attend demonstrations and try their hand at restoration.

To read more about the company or see examples of their work, visit http://new-millennium-inc.hypermart.net. BIZNEWS