White Cloud wants to waken the spirit to change the face of America

— From the Tosa Toma website
Jay C. White Cloud is a timber-frame builder. He wants to work with a group of citizens to restore the historic Doctor Crounse House.

Jay Cougar White Cloud lives what he believes in. His work as a Timberwright grew from his earliest childhood experiences. He now hopes to dedicate himself to restoring the Doctor Crounse House in Altamont.

Part of his family heritage comes from the Kiowa and Comanche tribes as does his name. The name of his business, Tosa Toma Designs, is Comanche for White Cloud.

White Cloud is in his 58th summer, as he puts it, and spent his earliest summers, from when he was 3 until he was 6 years old at the home of a Japanese teahouse master (Sukiay-Daiku 数奇屋大工), which was his first exposure to timber framing, along with the work his mother did in the historic restoration field herself.

He said that he learned this from the teahouse master, who was Shinto: “Everything has a soul.”

From the time he was 13 until he was 23, White Cloud apprenticed with Old Order Amish, as a Barnwright. At 23, he joined the United States Marine Corps and served for six years.

“I have done philanthropic work and worked for non-profits most of my career,” he said.

White Cloud said of timber-framing, “It’s bread and butter for me. I would never build any other way than traditionally. I tailor my own clothes and live as simply and holistically as I am able to.”

Ed Levin, one of the founders of the Timber Framers Guild of North America, wrote this about White Cloud: “Widely respected by connoisseurs and colleagues … Jay White Cloud … is a regional and national treasure, and his fine building skills will have a transformative effect on the trade, the principal materials of stone he has quarried and timber he has felled, milled and shaped.”

One of the projects White Cloud was part of recently is in Menomonie, Wisconsin — a pavilion farmers’ market, about 150 feet long and over 30 feet wide, resting only on large stone plinth, not a concrete foundation.

“It’s the largest public building in North America that we know of built on stone and of traditional timber-frame joinery without oblique bracing,” he said.

Tim Rau of Guilderland, Ev Rau’s grandson, was the Master Timberwright for the Menomonie Farmers’ Market project and the principle reason it was accomplished, White Cloud said. White Cloud was the designer and facilitated the foundation system of stone.

White Cloud said of Altamont, “You have a historic community here. Historic property shouldn’t be neglected. It’s common sense.”

He went on, “The core of Altamont is historic houses. When you bastardize one of them, you bring down property values.”

White Cloud said he lives by the restoration ethic adopted at the Burra Convention, put together by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization: “Like for like in means, method, and material.”

White Cloud explained, “Modernity is fine in restoration work, but it has to be reversible and non-destructive so it doesn’t leave an invasive footprint within the historic fabrics of the architecture.”

He plans to build his own house on the land behind the Crounse House if, he says, he is “allowed the privilege of working in concert with Historic Altamont in saving the Crounse House.”

White Cloud will build a replica of the ell, the addition on the back of the Crounse House, for his own house. “It will be a comparison for students of architecture — the same footprint, the same design, built on stone,” he said, but with elements from both the Middle East and Asia.

White Cloud will work with green wood — wood that hasn’t been dried — and hopes to hold green-wood festivals and workshops. “Most of the wood that built the Crounse House and built Altamont was green wood,” he said, “not store-bought, kiln-dried lumber.”

To work with green wood, White Cloud said, “You must understand and respect wood on a much more intimate level … You can read, with time and patience, a log, timber, or board like it was a book,” he said.

White Cloud uses traditional tools when he builds and is eager to teach others of their worth, even today.

He concluded, “We have a chance to waken the spirit in the next generation to change the face of America, and once again build structures that are both enduring and sustainable and put an end to the transient and throw-away architecture that we now have.”

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