Paint restoration project.
“Breathing new life into old artwork…”
New York Country House Mural Restoration
The owners of this eight bedroom farmhouse in Middletown, NY were removing many layers of wallpaper and discovered that the walls in the 3 story foyer had been originally painted with 48 panels of faux marble and trompe l’oeil moldings. The original artisans had signed them and dated them 1857.
Apparently the walls were not sized sufficiently and the oil paint of the artwork reacted with the lime plaster and started to saponify and deteriorate. The original owners must have decided to cover the work with wallpaper so they wouldn’t have to deal with the crazing and flaking of the paint. The walls remained covered in paper for the next 148 years until the newest owners removed it.
The new owners thought the artwork remarkable and had been trying for 8 years to find someone who could come onsite and restore this work. It is a private home and the house , although well made , is not important historically so government money could not be used. They originally hired two local artists to restore the work (using oil paints) but after 6 weeks, they had only completed one half of one panel. The length of time wasn’t even the issue. It was the fact that the artists frequently brought their children into the house filled with exquisite antiques.
I was brought in to consult and agreed to try my hand on restoring the murals. I researched everything I could find out about artists in that area and the types of paints they had available in the 1850’s.
The owners wanted me to keep as much of the original work as possible and keep the whole look fairly even. Using just infill techniques and leaving the existing paint alone, I managed to complete one half of a panel in 3 days and was hired to do the rest of the commission.
. There was extensive deterioration on all of the panels with efflorescence, crazing, cracking, delamination, water damage and whole areas where the artwork was gone. I had to carefully study the original artists’ techniques so that they could be duplicated reliably.
The original paint colors remained in pretty true since the paint was hidden under layers of wallpaper. I was able to duplicate the colors and artwork fairly reliably.
It took me little over a year to complete all 48 panels in the foyer working and staying at the house, one week at a time. I averaged completing 3 panels a week for a total of 17 weeks.
1) Wash all surfaces with an enzyme cleaner and distilled water to remove all residual traces of wallpaper paste.
2) Rinse with a solution of 30% Vinegar, 70% water to neutralize the ph. Then rinse with clear, distilled water.
3) ) Patch divots and imperfections in plaster with vinyl spackle. Seal raw plaster repairs with clear Gardz by Zinsser. I like to use clear Gardz as a penetrating primer because I have found that it does the best job of creating an even, sealed surface for subsequent work.
4) Used acrylic caulk to fill stress and relief joints at millwork.
It is considered a safe practice in conservation to use acrylic paints when going over and next to oil-paints for two reasons:
- a) Acrylic paint can be removed with solvents(zylene and/or toluene) that will not hurt the original oil paints and
- b) You can use a UV light to see exactly where the new work and the old work is.
5) I sealed all surfaces, old and new, with a thin, acrylic matte medium to clarify the old and oxidised colors so I could correctly match the colors.
I used only the pigments that were available in the 1850’s to keep the colors true under different lighting conditions.
Base: Golden Artist Paint’s PROCEED Décor Paint – Neutral base colored with Aqueous Dispersions: Titanium White, Slow Drying Fluid Acrylics: Yellow Oxide, Raw Umber, Burnt Sienna, Raw Sienna, Carbon Black.
Glaze: Proceed Matte Additive in a ratio of 10% Matte Additive, 50% Low Viscosity Glaze, 30%v Hi-load Matte Medium and 10% water.
Overglaze: Acrylic matte medium colored with acrylic paints and water.
The 48 panels range in size from 40″ x 20″ to 21′ x 4′.