28 April 2015

The Conservator

To restore or not to restore? For Josh Baum, the answer is simple.

JOSH BAUM has always been fascinated by what he calls “our built environment as influenced by the automobile.” Which explains why he once owned and began restoration on a 1940s Sinclair filling station in his hometown of Hays, Kansas.

Josh recently earned an MA in Historical Preservation from the University of Georgia. The program’s emphasis is structural — buildings, houses, bridges — but Josh is a car guy as well as a card-carrying member of the Historic Vehicle Association (HVA). It makes sense, then, that his thesis is an examination of the HVA’s steps in creating the National Historic Vehicle Register based on the long-established guidelines of the National Historic Preservation Act. He’s been out of the classroom for the last three years, however, and he’s spent that time applying his education and his passion on the West Coast in an effort to save old cars.

The 31-year-old currently works for a private collection in southern California, where he cares for several completely original vehicles as an automotive preservationist. “The job ranges between detailing and fine art conservation,” Josh says. “I work to maintain the original features of the vehicles and document any potential changes or modifications that may be needed for safety purposes.” For a car guy with an eye toward protecting history, the job is hard to beat.

Before he landed his dream job, however, Josh interned at LeMay–America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Washington. Through a grant from the Hagerty Education Program (then called the Collectors Foundation), Josh practiced much of what he does now — maintenance on the museum’s collection — and also helped to stage exhibits and update the museum’s vehicle research database. The three-month internship led to a full-time position as assistant curator. In many ways, the museum’s mission — to honor “America’s love affair with the automobile” — meshed perfectly with Josh’s own interests, specifically wanting “to tell the story not just of the cars, but how the cars have affected us as people.”

As a working automotive conservator, and as someone who benefitted from HEP, what Josh most appreciates about the program is its focus on helping to develop young people who are passionate about the types of craftsmanship and artistry that are largely missing from today’s society. “I think it would be tragic if we were to get to a point where we were losing these vehicles, these historic resources, because we didn’t have the people in place with a knowledge of their construction or engineering, or an understanding of their significance.”

Tragic is an apt word for it. So it’s nice to know that Josh is out there working not only to preserve old cars, but the hobby itself.

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