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A Colorful Past

Historic Arkansas Museum - Friday, May 01, 2015

The Woodruff Print Shop reconstruction has been bricked and roofed; it has windows and stairs. To finish out the interior, one step is painting. And of course, it must be in the 1820s way, with an 1820s color palette—for the most authentic appearance.

Today we are used to uniform, self-leveling coatings that come pre-mixed from a store. In the 1820s, paints were hand-mixed locally from dried pigments and linseed oil. Agents that helped the paint dry, known as ‘ Japan dryers,’ were added later, onsite.

When applied, the paint would exhibit a “ropy” finish, retaining some of the brush strokes. Limited colors were available, with the popular color palette at the time including Prussian blue, straw yellow and chocolate brown. Fireplace mantles were often painted black. Whitewash was a common finish applied to plaster surfaces, like the walls in the print shop.

Custom paints are being manufactured for this project by Historic Paints Ltd. of Athens, NY, where each batch is individually mixed by a master paint maker. Japan dryers will be added onsite. On the walls will be a simulated whitewash provided by Old Village Paint of Perkiomenville, PA. Architectural consultant Mark Wenger recommended the historic color palette.