Jim Lee of Hunter Research will begin the archaeological work at the site on April 26. He and another archaeologist expect to be there all week. The Hunter group will sample the builder’s trench, the “patio” area off the kitchen where we hope to find the privy, and the area underneath the kitchen floor. All are welcome to stop by, but don’t expect any dramatic finds. We hope to find a few things that date to the eighteenth century that tell us something of the lifestyle of the inhabitants. A lot of the work takes place in the lab following the dig, so we may not know anything new by the end of the week. On the other hand, you never know.
Chris Frey spent the day in the two parlors at the Roseberry house on Wednesday. He uncovered several major areas and took samples. He determined that the paint is a distemper—a water-soluble type common in the colonial period, and that the paintings are covered with 5-7 layers of whitewash.
The background color of the wall is a medium gray—what photographers would classify as an 18% gray, which seems pretty dark. There are five colors used in the decoration—black, dark gray, light gray, buff, and red. We’ll know more about them when the lab analysis is completed in about a month.
There are several patterns repeated at various places—a pattern of crescent-shaped leaves and dots along the vertical edges of the walls and doors, two different horizontal patterns below the chair rails and above the baseboards, and alternating columns of daisy-like flowers and floral patterns. It appears there are stencils, free-hand painting and stamps—almost perfect circles of gray dots about 3/8 of an inch in diameter. Black is frequently used to produce a sort of trompe l’oeil effect with flower petals and sword-like leaves. The red pigment appears to be the top layer, and may come off very easily; there are areas we think were red at one time but only the barest traces remain.
There is a great deal more work and analysis to be done, even after all the chipping, peeling and lab analysis is complete. A cursory examination suggests three techniques were used—stenciling, free-hand painting, and stamping, but when we really enlarge the images we’ll get a better sense of the techniques and the order in which the various layers were applied.
Nether Chris nor I have the artistic background to make anything of these patterns. We examined photos from two books on early American Wall Painting and Stenciling, but gained no insight from them. We’re not claiming they are unique, but they are certainly not common. The Roseberry house is a special place, but the wall paintings may turn out to be the defining characteristic, studied and cited by scholars of the decorative arts in the American colonial period.