Traditional Hand Ground Paint in the Stair Passage


We are on the home stretch in the Northwest Stair Passage. Each time I visit the project it looks a little closer to completion and its final designation as a functioning staircase. One of the most recent exciting activities that occured was the application of traditional hand ground linseed oil paint.

This paint was made by Erica Sanchez Goodwillie of Clinton, NY. Erica also spent a week here at Stratford Hall applying this special paint with the help of Jack Fisher of Plains, VA. The hand ground paint was made by hand grinding the pigments in the linseed oil. The pure pigments were then mixed with more linseed oil until a color match was achieved. At this point more linseed oil and chalk were added to extend the paint. Then, when it comes to applying the paint, it is a completely different beast than modern paint. When applying the paint you must be sure all surfaces are properly prepared or the paint will “flash,” which means the paint loses its appropriate gloss. You must also be sure not to apply the paint too thick or it will wrinkle. These are only a couple of the differences between hand ground paint and paint we use today.

The colors used in this space were identified through Cross-section Paint Microscopy, done by Susan Buck of Williamsburg, VA. This is a process of taking small samples of paint and using a powerful microscope to analyze the paint history of the room’s elements. We were lucky to have enough paint history retained in areas to provide us with an accurate representation of how the Stair Passage would have been painted during Light Horse Harry’s time.

In the lower space of the Stair Passage, all the woodwork–including the chair rail, door archtraves and the mantel–was painted a light gray color. The stair elements (hand rail, balusters, risers) will be painted a “Spanish Brown”. All the baseboards in the Stair Passage will be painted a dark black-brown. The most exciting color that was identified during the paint analysis was on the main floor woodwork. The color that was identified to be in place was Verdigris–this is a bright vibrant green color that you would have found in the nicer homes of this time period.

The processes of discovering the paint colors, having the paints made, and having them applied has been very exciting. I am looking forward to seeing this space complete with all the colors and woodwork in place, and I’m also very excited to hear the responses from you and our visitors to this restored space.