Student brings furniture back to life at campus library

Student brings furniture back to life at campus library

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - A Southeast Missouri State University student is gathering old furniture from Kent Library and restoring it.

Peter Reckling is a senior at Southeast. His major is in historic preservation of architecture and he has been bringing historic chairs and tables back to life.

Reckling has spent a lot of time over the years in Kent Library where he noticed some older items that hadn’t been used for a while. After wanting to restore his first piece, he was then presented with several more.

"I started out with the Wildwood table upstairs in special collections," Reckling recalled. "After I had shown interest in that, Roxanne had taken me around the library and showed me a few other pieces I might be interested in."

Roxanne Dunn is the special collections and archived librarian at Kent Library. She supervises Peter as a student worker and said he even taught her about how old some of the historic items were there.

"He would walk around the library and spot, 'that's an early piece and that's an early piece,'" Dunn said. "He kind of told us what was original to the 1939 building or even earlier."

Reckling said the pieces he’s restoring are 70 to more than 100 years old. He feels honored to be able to put part of his work in such historical items.

“Adding myself to the history of this piece, it is survived this long,” Reckling said. “It has had a good life being a university piece of furniture and now this is a second chance in life; almost like a rebirth back into the world.”

Dunn said they have actually been able to trace some of the pieces in old photographs and find out when and how they were being used.

One of the pieces they found has a special meaning to the university. They found the desk of Sadie Kent.

“Sadie Kent was essentially the original university librarian,” Dunn explained. “She was really responsible for promoting moving the library out of Academic Hall and she actually had a little bit to do with the building of the 1939 Kent Library.”

(Source: Peter Reckling)
(Source: Peter Reckling) ((Source: Peter Reckling))

Dunn said these pieces look amazing after he is done with them.

“Now we can actually display them proudly and it’s like we’ve been able to recapture that history,” Dunn said. “These pieces are important to our history. They were here when the library was founded.”

Some of the furniture items are irriplaceable and cannot be rebuilt today.

Reckling said he loves to restore them for the university and said this is the only way they can exist because they cannot be duplicated anymore.

“It’s a passion,” Reckling said.

“Honestly, they don’t build furniture like this anymore. And once it’s gone, it’s gone. There’s no replicating," he said. "There’s no handiwork or craftsmanship like this anymore. The ones today, they just have a heart. They have a character. Like for instance, this is Tiger Oak wood. This is extinct. This wood no longer exists in the world.”

With special permission, Reckling is allowed to take the old furniture pieces to the Polytechnic building where he is able to restore them back to new.

"I just sand off the original finish, expose the grain and give it a soft sanding, put a coat of stain on," Reckling explained. "Then I use a product called Linseed Oil which is a product that they put on old furniture back then and today. It helps seal it and helps keep the furniture well protected."

Reckling said he will continue working on dozens of more furniture items in the upcoming winter and summer breaks.

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