Goal: to create an uninterrupted viewing experience for visitors to the site by (1) covering spots of lead paint that were not able to be removed; (2) photographically recording the original state of the areas before conservation; (3) avoid covering any of the original pigment with the new paints; (4) to make the damaged areas disappear to the casual viewer without obscuring them from detection upon inspection. This is the minimal level of conservation.

East Chamber Before and After In-painting

Materials: brushes, Golden’s Matte medium (acrylic), a wide variety of ground, dry, (mostly organic) pigments, water

(1) East Chamber (Molly)
the woodwork in the East Chamber was stripped down to it’s earliest paint layer: a faux cedar grain painted in water-soluble paint. The paint was damaged minimally, and the raw wood shows through only in a few places. Significant areas of the painted beams remain covered by subsequent layers of white paint. The basic combination for matching the color in the East Chamber is a light brown iron oxide mixed with a hint of red ocher. Rotten stone helps to dull the color without causing it to lighten. Titanium white and titanium buff are used to lighten the color as needed, and raw umber or iron oxide may be added to darken it. The color of the raw wood where it shows through is most easily matched by mixing brown ocher with titanium buff or titanium white.

(2) West Chamber (Maggie)
the woodwork in the West Chamber was stripped down to expose a grey-green layer of paint. The top layers of paint were removed quite thoroughly, and only small patches of white remain. The damage to the original paint is significant, and much of the raw wood is exposed. The burnt sienna and yellow ocher match the color of the wood. The antique paint color can be matched over this by using the rotten stone, italian raw umber, and titanium buff.


Plaster Consolidation

Molly Consolidating Plaster in East Chamber

Goal: (1) to conserve original plasters on the walls and ceilings; (2) to improve the structural integrity of the surfaces; (3) to fill in cracks and holes in the original plaster; (4) to prepare the surfaces for later painting and/or wallpaper

Materials: drill, plaster conditioner, adhesive, caulk gun, lath, screws and plastic washers

beginning on day two, Mike taught us to consolidate plaster. In places where the original plaster is falling away from the wall, or has cracked and is in danger of falling away, we use a plaster adhesive to re-adhere the original plaster to the original lath.

Maggie Drilling Holes in East Chamber Ceiling

the first step is to drill 3/8″ holes into the plaster along cracks or in damaged areas. These holes should go entirely through the plaster and should be oriented over the lath, but not penetrate it. Holes should run along either side of a crack or around all edges of a damaged area, and should never be more than 2-3″ apart.

the next step is to spray conditioner into the holes. Once the conditioner has set (10-15 min.) adhesive is injected into each hole. This is done rather quickly, though the adhesive takes at least twenty-four hours to set. When all the adhesive for an area has been injected, the plaster is secured tightly to the lath by use of more screws with plastic washers, or, for longer, straight cracks, long pieces of lath screwed into the plaster.

the set adhesive must sit at least over night to dry. When the adhesive is cured, the lath and/or washers are removed and the excess adhesive must be scraped away. Eventually, the holes will be filled with fresh plaster, and the finished wall will look almost new.

Consolidated Plaster in the West Chamber

Cleaning Ceilings

Purpose: (1) to prep the ceilings for distemper; (2) to remove all water-soluble undercoats and uneven texture from previous layers, fractures, chipping, etc.; (3) to preserve a small portion of undisturbed paint for future reference and analysis

Preserved Portion of the Ceiling in the East Chamber

Materials: ladders, large sponges, scraping knives and/or razor blades, scouring brushes, warm water, vinegar, rubbing alcohol, wall paper steamers

(1) West Chamber     (begun 6/28)
the most recent layer is a grey, water-soluble, thin layer, followed by a thicker, water-soluble white layer. Spotty varnish below the white is non-water-soluble and only releases after heavy scraping. We used a sponge and plenty of water (mixed with a splash of vinegar) to wet the surface and a scouring pad to wipe away the grey and white layers. A scraper was used on the tough areas, such as at the edges of the ceiling where the paint was generally thicker. We scraped down to a light, yellowish, ocher layer that is non-water-soluble and likely lime-based. Where parts of the varnish were left, it looks like a darker ocher (sometimes grey) splotch.  There are also places where a partial, textured, white layer is visible, which is not water-soluble nor easily removed.
Total est. man hours: 60 hr     (finished 6/28)

East Chamber Ceiling Before (right) and After (left)

(2) East Chamber     (begun 7/1)
the most recent layer is a thin, water-soluble grey. Below is a bright white, also water-soluble with a varnish coat above that is not water-soluble. These three layers are most easily removed by dry scraping with a scraper or razor blade. In some of the difficult spots, water helps to soften the material – but much of the paint flakes off easily. Below is a thin blue coat over grey; the paint analyst John Vaughn believes it to be Prussian Blue. This layer scrubs off easily to reveal a fairly even grey or white surface. In places there is a varnish coat (like that in the W. Chamber) that does not scrape off easily – doing so risks exposing the plaster – and we left this mostly in tact.
Total est. man hours: 50 hr     (finished 7/5)

(3) Parlor     (begun 7/6)
the most recent paint layer is a thin, water-soluble grey, that wipes off easily. Beneath, are one or more layers of white, one of which is a latex paint that neither scrapes nor rubs off easily. When removed, the exposed surface is much like that of the W. Chamber, a light, ocher color with patches of a darker varnish layer. Bridget developed a technique for removing the paint layers by which we scored the paint with the edge of a scraper then sprayed the area with isopropyl alcohol. After allowing the alcohol to sit shortly (30 s – 1 min) the latex layer scrapes away more easily, but this process sometimes had to be repeated 2 – 3 times. When an adequate amount had been scraped away, we used vinegar water and scouring brushes to remove excess paint and clean the area.
though effective, this method was very time-consuming. On day two, we tested the wall paper steamers which proved to be much more efficient. Working in pairs, one person held the steamer (secured to the end of a long pole) to the ceiling for about two minutes. Then, as s/he moved to the next spot, the other scraped in the steamer’s path.


Total est. man hours: 60 hr     (finished 7/8)

(The Muster Room has an exposed wooden ceiling that does not need this type of treatment.)

Getting Started

Start Date: 27 June, 2011

Project Description:
the Barrett Farmhouse has four stories (the basement, first story, second story, and attic). The large house has many rooms, but we will be focusing on the four main rooms of the house: the Muster Room and the Parlor are on the first floor, and their respective second stories are the East and West Chambers (also known as the Muster and Parlor Chambers).

working for Marylou Davis, Inc., our project is to conserve these four rooms from the baseboards up; (1) to clean and repair the plaster walls; (2) to remove excess paint layers from the ceilings; (3) to in-fill the painted woodwork according to museum standards (that is, to make the woodwork look worn but undamaged to the naked eye, but to carefully record the changes that are made and to make obvious upon inspection which paint is original and which is not); (4) to stain the newly installed windows; (5) to repaint the walls and ceilings. Ultimately, the house will be fully prepared to (hopefully) be included in the Minuteman National Park.