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Calsomine — Case Study

Walls, Ballroom, 1812 Tavern, Charlotte, Vermont.
Exiting conditions of the ballroom before preservation. Plaster required minimal patching along ceiling and portions of the wall. Wall surfaces had been painted only three or four times. Ballroom was to be restored for community use — in keeping with its tradition as a tavern ballroom.
Project specifications called for coating plaster with an alkyd (oil) paint. However, in the process of preparing the surfaces for painting, project craftspeople removed water-soluble paint to discover historic "graffiti": calculations, drawings, and signatures of late-19th-century occupants, who had been identified during historical research. All pencilwork was documented in writing and with photographs.
Because oil-paint would be an irreversible treatment, forever covering these historic records, and as oil-paint would likely fail unless all surfaces were thoroughly cleaned — destroying this work in the process, other options were pursued. Given the opportunity, it was decided to match the historic finish in kind, using water-soluble (hence: reversible) calsomine tinted with earth pigment to match the historic appearance. "Dutch Kalsomine" (calcomine), manufactured by the Muralo Company, Inc. in Bayonne, NJ, was obtained from Johnson Paint in Boston. Johnson Paint had acquired a large volume of the paint before Muralo closed.
Two pigments were considered for tinting: (1) natural yellow ochre dug up from a historic paint works near Brandon, Vermont [on right, in jar] and (2) manufactured yellow ochre supplied by Johnson Paint. While there were differences, it was decided to employ the modern Johnson pigment as sitable quanties could be obtained and as the tinted calcimine matched the historic color on the walls.
After much testing, the final color was selected, a large batch of calsomine, water and pigment (premixed) were formulated, poured through a stocking to remove lumps, and painted on the walls with a wide natural-bristle brush,using cross-stroke brushwork, to produce the typical soft, lightly textured, flat effect achieved by this paint.


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