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World-renowned restoration expert comes to W.Va.

June 18, 1998|By CLYDE FORD

by JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer

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Restoration Expert, Renzo Riddo

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Italian-born engineer Renzo Riddo waves his hands as he points out the brick work being done on a building at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

"You feel like you're trying to save this for generation after generation," Riddo says.

Riddo, 53, has done restoration work around the world to preserve historical structures for future generations. His work has taken him to the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican in Rome and to the pyramids in Egypt.

For the past year, Riddo has been working to restore 10 buildings in Harpers Ferry.

"It's a small group of experts who can do this in this country. We're lucky to have him on board. He's one of a few who are really experts at plaster, brick work, stucco," said Peter Dessauer, historical architect at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

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Heavy rains, snow and ice storms, floods and a hurricane caused severe damage at the park from November 1995 through January 1997. Riddo and the work crew are repairing interior and exterior walls damaged by the water.

Riddo said he believes the masonry methods he is using on the exterior walls will make them stronger.

"He has a sense of how deep and profound a problem might be. If he sees a little problem on the surface, he can usually predict how bad it might be under the surface," said Dessauer, who has worked with Riddo for more than 20 years on different projects.

Riddo said he believes that when the work is finished, the restored brick walls will be stronger than ever.

"With the new methods I'm doing, I don't think the flood damage will happen again," Riddo said.

Before repairing the water-damaged plaster at the Brackett House and other buildings, Riddo took samples to determine how the original plaster was made. He then prepared samples to see how the plaster holds on the wall. Dyes were added so the color matches that of the existing walls.

"We don't do anything without researching first," Riddo said.

In addition to supervising the restoration work, Riddo is training eight masons how to do the work by demonstrating the process so they can continue after he leaves.

Watching Riddo work with the crew can be like watching a maestro conducting an opera, Dessauer said.

"He's theatrical. He's Italian. He always talks with his hands, but he gets the job done," Dessauer said.

One of his proudest accomplishments was serving as a consultant about the plaster during the restoration of Michelangelo's masterpieces on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

"To be able to work with Michelangelo on the same painting, I felt part of it," Riddo said.

Riddo was born in Venice, Italy, the son of a ship designer.

He received his early college training in Italy at the University of Venezia and then moved to the United States to continue his education at Columbia University. He became a U.S. citizen 30 years ago.

He wrote a book on restoration work, "Restorazione della America Vita," that prompted the National Park Service in 1972 to seek his help with restoration work to help prepare historical structures for the national bicentennial celebration.

Riddo still works for the National Park Service out of Colorado and is frequently sent throughout the system on projects. He expects to be in Harpers Ferry for at least another year.

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