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Photomicrograph of the early graining layers in cross-section
Cross-section photomicrographs.

Physical Evidence

The research in the stair hall at Mount Pleasant began with the collection of small paint samples from various areas of the wainscot and baseboard. The samples were prepared as cross-sections and examined under the microscope in visible and ultraviolet light to characterize the layers. In samples from the wainscot, the earliest finish on top of the wood substrate is orange-brown in color and is composed of paint and varnish layers. The early paint layers contain large pigment particles, which is consistent with hand-ground paint. The varnish layers are thin and exhibit fluorescence, appearing bright when viewed in ultraviolet light as compared to the thicker, more opaque paint layers. This layered arrangement is consistent with historic wood graining techniques and prompted conservators to determine how much of the original decorative finish survived.

Stephanie Oman
Stephanie Oman uncovering the graining in the stair hall.
While the cross-section samples provided valuable information about the paint layers, it was necessary to reveal the original surface to learn more about the grain pattern. An area of the wainscot including part of the baseboard was selected for the initial reveal. Samples had indicated that the baseboard graining included a darker brown layer on top of the orange-brown layer that was found on the wainscot, suggesting that these elements were finished with different colors. A joint in the paneling was also selected for the reveal location to investigate the orientation of the graining pattern. After many hours of removing overpaint with a surgical scalpel and solvent gels, the original surface was exposed. The reveal confirmed that the baseboard was painted a darker color than the wainscot and with a less pronounced graining pattern. Although the revealed surface is worn, the original surface would have been more saturated and glossy to mimic finely finished wood. An additional reveal was completed further up on the wainscot and confirmed the presence of the same red graining pattern on an orange-brown ground.

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