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Paint Investigation




Understanding each project's historic preservation goal and knowing what level of information needs to be collected to achieve that goal is an important responsibility of the purchaser of the service. Before someone is hired, the owner or manager needs to decide if a thorough investigation of painted surfaces is actually needed, and how to use the results when one is done.

Specialists with both training and field experience conduct paint investigations. These experts use sophisticated instruments and procedures such as field sampling, cross-section analysis, and fluorescent and chemical staining to learn about the components and behaviors of historic paints. In addition, they utilize written documentation, verbal research, and visual information about past painting in the building in conjunction with findings in the field.

Paint investigation can make several contributions to a project. A complete analysis of the paint layers on surfaces within a structure can tell a great deal about the sequence of alterations that have occurred within a building, as well as potentially providing ranges of dates for some of these changes.

By establishing a full sequence of paint layers (termed a chromochronology), together with other research, alterations of various building spaces and features can be associated with specific paint layers. It is by establishing this association that the correct layer is identified; when the correct layer has been identified, the color may be matched.

In addition to its archeological value, paint analysis can determine the types and colors of paint on a given surface (identification of thin glazes, decorative paint schemes, binders and pigments). Beyond color identification, then, paint analysis is also recommended to diagnose causes of paint failure. Knowing a paint binder can often explain causes as well as guide appropriate preservation or conservation treatments.

Owners and managers should identify all of these needs before deciding on the extent of analysis. For example, a complete paint investigation is usually recommended as part of an historic structure report. For buildings with little documentation, additions and alterations can often be identified, and possibly dated, through analysis. Often the use of such seemingly expensive techniques can save money in the long run when determining the history of building change.

It is possible to do some analysis on site; this is a much simpler process that can be undertaken for less cost than the complex laboratory procedures described above. However, the usefulness of on-site analysis is limited and the results will not be as precise as results from samples that are analyzed in a laboratory with a good microscope.

Any shortcut approaches to paint analysis that do not follow scientific procedures are generally not worth the expense. In summary, if preservation and restoration treatments are being undertaken, a complete investigation is recommended; for a rehabilitation project, on-site analysis and color matching may provide an adequate palette.

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