In Memoriam: Don Carpentier, Master of the "Useful Arts"

Don Carpentier (September 22, 1951 - August 26, 2014)

Donald G. Carpentier, 62, died Tuesday morning at his home in Eastfield Village near Nassau, NY. He had been battling ALS for the past three years, and lost his voice about a year ago. He kept communicating by writing notes on a pad and continually posted new discoveries via his Facebook account. He was active in workshops at the Village until two days before his death. 

I was fortunate to have been one of the huge number who attended classes at Eastfield. He was passionate about wallpaper. Then again, the list of early American crafts he was passionate about, and adept at, would fill a small book. His contributions to the field of pottery are legendary. Somehow, describing Eastfield's agenda as "education," "classes," and "historic preservation" sounds wrong. These words, while accurate as far as they go, fail to capture Don's vision, which he fully realized, much to our enrichment and his delight. He was perhaps the most insatiably curious man I ever met. He did not so much study history as live it, appreciate it, and share it. No detail was too small, and Don was always racing ahead to the next detail. It seemed that for him "history" was synonymous with "discovery."

Though he became internationally known for his breadth of knowledge, Don lived most of his life within a 50-mile radius of Albany, New York. Remarkably, most all of the buildings in the Village were within that same 50-mile orbit. The family moved from Knoxville, Tenessee, where Don was born, to New York in 1954, settling near Nassau in 1966. He began collecting in his early teens. A
ccording to the Eastfield Village website, after building up a substantial collection of medicine bottles, he constructed " space for them out of old buildings he found in the fields"  — a portentous development. 

As a young adult, after studying civil engineering at Hudson Valley Community College and earning a bachelor's degree in historic preservation from Empire State College in Saratoga Springs, he followed a personal path toward professional growth. He began his life project in 1971 after inheriting 14 acres of land — the former east field of his father's farm — in rural Nassau. He was soon acquiring and moving 18th and 19th century buildings onto the land, board by board. 

Over many years, a fair copy of an authentic 19th century village materialized. It includes a church, tavern, blacksmith's shop, tin shop, woodshop, doctor's office, shoe shop, pond, general store, Dutch barn, print shop, several residences, and assorted sheds and outhouses. The outhouses are not decorative. Nor have electricity, cable TV or central heating been installed at the Village proper. Participants in the sessions, which range from two days to a week, are informed that they can stay for free at the Village. There is only one requirement: "...each person choosing to stay at the tavern must supply 10 ten-inch white candles…" Eastfield Village is a place to study Americana, like Colonial Williamsburg or Sturbridge Village, but unlike any other place, workshop participants can sleep on rope beds, cook their own food, and haul their own water. 

In effect, Don's collection of buildings became a laboratory of early American culture. The Early American Trades and Historic Preservation Workshops are now in their 38th year. The integrity of the buildings, buttressed by Don's burgeoning knowledge about all sorts of undervalued trades and crafts, allowed participants total immersion — a way to handle, use, and learn about hundreds of architectural elements, tools, and typical artifacts of the late 18th and early 19th century. While Don was an excellent teacher, his open-minded attitude and enthusiasm for learning may have been more important. He was respectful toward the collective knowledge of his adult students. At Eastfield, people learned as much from each other and their own experience as from the putative instructors.

The wallpaper workshops at Eastfield in the summers of 1995 and 1996 were seminal events and were led by Bernard Jacqué (Musée du Papier Peint), Treve Rosoman (English Heritage), Allyson McDermott (British paper conservator), Richard Nylander, Joanne Warner, Ed Polk Douglas, Matt Mosca, Margaret Pritchard, and Chris Ohrstrom. The Eastfield wallpaper workshops spurred the resumption of block printing in the United States after a hiatus of close to 50 years. At the conclusion of the workshops the reproduction 19th-century block printing press created by Eastfield's master carpenters went to the Farmers' Museum in Cooperstown, New York for several years before ending up as the first press for Adelphi Paper Hangings, now located in nearby Sharon Springs. Adelphi has now supplied block printed wallpaper for two rooms in the White House and for countless more historic homes. 

Many other fields — among them tinsmithing, coopering, typesetting, painting, blacksmithing, masonry, and textiles — have been enhanced by the workshops at Eastfield and by the dedication of its genius, Don Carpentier, sometimes styled the Squire of Eastfield.

Survivors include his husband, Scott Penpraze, and stepson Bryce; daughter, Hannah Carpentier, and son, Jared Carpentier; sisters, Linda (and Anthony) Covert and Ellen (and Brian) Cypher, and brother, Jim (and Caroline) Carpentier. Donations in Don's memory may be made to the ALS Association, P.O. Box 6051 Albert Lea, MN 56007, or at 

The Historic Eastfield Foundation, an educational non-profit, was established within the last 10 years or so. It would be fitting indeed if the Foundation can succeed in carrying on his legacy.

Tributes to Don Carpentier:

The Facebook page of the Early American Industries Association had been sharing Don's album, and has put up this notice: "The life and accomplishments of Don Carpentier. This album is now dedicated to his memory and a tribute to his craftsmanship and willingness to share with others."

How To Buy "Backstory"