January 28, 2013
Readers’ Questions Update.
At the end of November, as the north storage building was receiving its final touches in view of the webcam, Kerry commented: “Nice to see the paint on the new storage building. My question is: did smaller structures not use beaded siding like those of larger ones? Also there was much activity about the paint on the kitchen. Is the white correct for these small buildings? And what color will the tin shop be?”
Edward Chappell, the Shirley H. and Richard D. Roberts Director of Architectural History, supplies the following answer:
The varied finishes on the outside of buildings in the Armoury and Tinsmith shop complex reflect the varied dates and functions of the original buildings. Hand-manufacture and importation of materials made oil paints expensive in the 18th century. Pine tar and limewashes were more economical choices.
Pine tar strengthened with iron-oxide red pigment was a common choice for riven (split) clapboards and shingles. We have found it microscopically on the earliest frame parts of the Thomas Everard kitchen, applied before the walls were rebuilt with brick in Everard’s tenure. The only painting contract to survive from early Williamsburg calls for tarring the roof of St. George Tucker’s kitchen with pine tar and iron-oxide pigment. Applying this information to the Armoury property, we know that the tinsmith shop and the [Anderson] kitchen were built before the Revolutionary War and the rest of the Armoury complex. They are the kind of ancillary buildings most likely to have been tarred.
The main Armoury building and workshop (not yet reconstructed) are perceived as being better-built during the Revolution than the smaller contemporary buildings like the storehouses. Here there is a distinction is between higher and lower status, with oil paint on the principal buildings (the main Armoury building) and whitewash on the smaller and more cheaply built ones (the storehouse).
You may read more about the use and study of early paint in Williamsburg in the three first chapters of Architectural Finishes in the Built Environment, edited by Mary Jablonski and Catherine Matsen (London: Archetype Publications, 2009). The story of Williamsburg paint will be given more attention and broader context in The Chesapeake House, a book by Colonial Williamsburg architectural historians on early building in the region, to be published by University of North Carolina Press in March.
-Contributed by Edward Chappell, Director, Architectural and Archaeological Research