Recipient of the first annual Historic New England Preservation Leadership Award
Robert Adam is an accomplished craftsman and woodworker. Since the early 1970s he has specialized in preservation and trades education. In 1982 he began teaching at North Bennet Street School’s (NBSS) carpentry program. During the first years at NBSS, he envisioned and developed the Preservation Carpentry Program – now recognized as a model in preservation skills training. With an innovative approach, Robert demonstrated his practical knowledge in the field, with students working on projects at active historic sites. Through his work at NBSS, Robert built key partnerships with iconic New England institutions including the Canterbury Shaker Village, Old Sturbridge Village, Strawbery Banke Museum, Danvers Historical Society, Peabody-Essex Museum, Historic Boston, and the Shirley-Eustis House. He has also been an important mentor to Historic New England staff and has led NBSS classes in the repair of some of Historic New England’s own museum sites.
In conjunction with his work at NBSS, Robert has freely offered his expertise to others, helping nonprofit organizations and small historic house museums. He has worked in a volunteer capacity at numerous organizations, including The Shirley Meeting House, Freedom’s Way National Heritage Corridor, the Vernacular Architecture Forum, the Shirley Historical Commission, and Falmouth Heritage Renewal in Falmouth, Jamaica. Robert’s dedication to preservation trades also led him to the United Kingdom, where he was selected as a scholar with the Attingham Trust (1998), as well as a Fellow with the Quinque Foundation in association with Historic Scotland (2002). He remains closely affiliated with the Early American Industries Association, the Eastfield Foundation, and the Preservation Trades Network.
Robert retired from full-time teaching in 2008 after more than 25 years at NBSS. An early retirement would allow him the time to pursue other interests and build an addition to a Shaker house he moved in 2003. As it turned out, he became involved in yet another restoration that would last for the next ten years in Harvard, Massachusetts.
The Houghton House project was a compete restoration of an early 18th-century house. The owner lived on the west coast and visited New England only two weeks a year, allowing full access to the property year-round. Robert worked with an NBSS graduate several days a week on the Houghton House, and the rest of the time on his new addition and other projects. With those projects completed, he fully retired in 2020 and continues to consult with museums on preservation issues; he also serves as Special Advisor and lecturer to NBSS.