Historic Paint Colors of Nova Scotia

The dawn of the ready-mixed paint industry in Nova Scotia (1875-1900) saw roughly one dozen major paint companies introduce their products here.  Initially represented by local agents and then by hardware stores and journeymen painters, manufacturers made great inroads into the well-entrenched tradition of locally mixed paints.  By 1900, it is estimated that approximately two-thirds of all paint sold in the province was of the ready-mixed or canned variety.  For house paint color consulting, the advent of the ready-mixed paint era is very convenient.  Here’s why.

Large multi-national paint manufacturers produced huge amounts of promotional material.  Because of the sheer volume cranked out by the marketing arms of these companies, many valuable pieces have survived.  Color card samples as well as placement, pairing and treatment suggestions all exist for companies that sought to advance their product through mass marketing.

Vineberg & Fulton has documented when ready-mixed paint was introduced in different corners of Nova Scotia and specifically which manufacturers were actively selling in individual communities.  This information has been cross-referenced with surviving marketing ephemera to identify historically accurate colors that would have been available in a specific time and place.

It is essentially now possible to go “back in time.”  Suppose a home owner living in Amherst in 1898 is considering what color scheme he will use for his nearly finished cottage home.  The color palette available to him in 1898 is now available to Amherst residents today.  The opportunity for authenticity is exciting to those who admire historic homes.

Colors though are only half the equation.  The placement of colors is equally as important.  Components such as shutters, windows, and verandah ceilings each had colors with which they were traditionally associated.  Decorative shingles, belt courses, pilasters, verandah posts, eave brackets and many other architectural details all demand specific treatments apart from the color of the house body.

“Harmony of colors” was an important decorating concept espoused by some journeymen painters in Nova Scotia by 1895 and likely earlier.  It produced such vivid results that small town newspapers frequently printed news briefs on the striking results with comments like, “Many houses and places of business are being brightened up with paint of ‘various and sundry’ hues.”

Local color traditions may also play a role in identifying historically appropriate colors.  Yarmouth and Lunenburg, for example, can boast of individual characteristics, as can areas that claim predominantly Scottish or Acadian backgrounds.  Although Nova Scotia was to some extent influenced by color traditions external to our province (and increasingly so with the introduction of ready-mixed paints) this corner of the world was culturally significant in terms of its paint history.  Travel writers visiting our province throughout the 1800s provide confirmation of this fact.  At least one nineteenth century American paint manufacturer even marketed a color it called “Nova Scotia stone.”

For information on authentic colors and paint treatments from the late Victorian and Edwardian periods, as well as colors that predate the ready-mixed paint era, contact Vineberg & Fulton directly.

Posted by Joe Mar 03, 2012 Posted in Architectural History, Publications & Research 3 Comments

The Attitude of Historic Construction

Liverpool skyline c. 1905

the half-finished stone church belonging to our Episcopal friends… will be an ornament to the town.  Truro, 1877
                                         

The new Masonic Hall, Sheet Harbor, now under construction, will when finished, be quite an ornament to the village.

Sheet Harbor, 1903


“…an ornament to the village”  “…an ornament to the town” These early phrases and various equivalents have been used in reference to period construction of public buildings and residences alike.  Its conviction is virtually unheard of today.  Its sentiment is loaded.

It treats the subject as a piece of art.

It declares the appearance of the subject as a credit to the community.

This kind of sentiment was once widely held by architects and other local builders; and their work was truly admired by citizens.

Consider the associated benefits that this sort of attitude could potentially produce.  Does it not impact on sense of place and community pride?  To personalize it we might say self-esteem and self-confidence.  These attitudes naturally encourage economic initiative and risk – in other words – entrepreneurship.  If you look like a winner and feel like a winner – you’ve got the makings of being a winner.  Now we’re talking about economic prosperity.

Is it a coincidence that communities that once built “ornaments” were at the same time prosperous?  Some might be tempted to say that such communities were prosperous and therefore could afford “ornaments.”  Some might claim that notable structures can only rise out of affluence.  A closer look at the building of these “ornaments” reveals, in many cases, considerable sacrifice and hardship, even cases of derision for building on such a scale.

The idea of building “ornaments” is best encouraged by the words of John Ruskin (1819-1900)…

Therefore, when we build, let us think that we build for ever.  Let it not be for present delight, nor for present use alone; let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for, and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them, “See!  This our fathers did for us.”  For indeed, the greatest glory of a building is not in its stones, or in its gold.  Its glory is in its Age.

Contemporary construction typically does not follow the “ornament” creed.  Buildings now are often constructed with something called a “life expectancy” – an odd concept for a culture that is trying to adopt ideas of sustainability and of minimizing carbon footprints.

Although the largely uninspired architecture of today should be a concern; there is already ample enough building stock that did follow the “ornament” creed to keep preservationists busy for decades.  In other words, we already have wonderful ornaments that need either preservation to retain their status, or restoration to return them to their former prominence.  These ornaments also need to be cherished by the general public in ways that are vocal and sincere.

Value these structures  – because indifference means slowly conforming to contemporary ideals that promote a sterility and sameness of architecture – ultimately eroding community identity and neutering a community’s ability to present itself as confident and proud.

Architecture should be experienced and enjoyed.  Build ornaments.  Preserve ornaments.

Posted by Joe Nov 30, 2011 Posted in Architectural History Comments Off

Restoration?

How did we get to the point where some people butcher wonderful examples of built heritage and proudly declare their crimes against culture as a restoration?

When exterior trim is removed, window sills lopped off and other architectural details systematically trashed to install imitation clapboard, also known as vinyl siding, little heritage remains to be seen from the curb.  Suppose the interior is gutted to “open up the space.”  Historic plaster is history.  Traditional room layouts vanish in favour of the open concept fashion that will itself be lamented as dated in a few years.  Wide, historic mouldings are discarded for narrow MDF trim.  Hardwood floors, originally laid to conform to the room layouts no longer suffice so are replaced or covered with new flooring.  Solid wood doors wear too much paint and are placed street-side for municipal clean up.

In some people’s minds, this is what actually passes as restoration today.  It can be seen in presumptuous B&B publicity, magazine articles and real estate ads.

If it is not the wonderful restoration that is boasted of then it seems it is the historic nature of the place that is so highly touted.  But in such cases what is left that can be heralded as historic?  The house frame?  The year the place was built?  The public’s perception of what is authentic and honest is being distorted.

The Bluenose II, the ambassador of Nova Scotia, is being lovingly restored by skilled tradesmen in Lunenburg beginning in summer 2011.  The government first announced the project in 2009 and since that time the true extent of the work has become apparent. Some workers carefully describe the restoration in the context of the shape of the hull or the spirit of the ship.  Criticism of the so-called restoration is widespread as there is reputedly nothing left of the original Bluenose II except the rudder and the boom.  And when were these components last replaced?   One government official has gone on the defensive declaring that the criticism is unfair and that the government is honouring the Bluenose II in a respectful manner.  But is the term restoration being treated with honour and respect?

The difficulty with the Bluenose II restoration is that it is not so much the actual ship that is being restored as it is the concept.  And if you stop to consider the issue, it is the concept or essence of the ship that holds value and meaning to Canadians.  That value is derived from what the ship represents to each of us.  The values foremost in my mind are tied to the ship’s roles of ambassador and as replica of the original – these without question will be restored.   So, while many may feel that calling the Bluenose II a restoration is incorrect, it may not be technically untrue.  What is certain though, is that the use of the term has been problematic as it only serves to further confuse the public as to what a restoration really is.

In light of the confusion and in the interest of clarity, it might be helpful if we simply agreed to refer to the rebuilding of the Bluenose II as a reconstruction rather than a restoration.

But, just so there’s no mistake the next time you’re planning your own restoration project…

The Standards & Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada is a publication produced by Parks Canada and defines restoration as the action or process of accurately revealing, recovering or representing the state of a historic place or of an individual component, as it appeared at a particular period in its history, while protecting its heritage value.

Restoration returns a place or object to its appearance at a particular point in time.  The act of restoration can include removal of components that represent a later (more recent) period and reconstruction of missing features that were known to exist.  Authentic restoration must be based on clear evidence and detailed knowledge of the processes and materials that the project requires.

Now her namesake remains to show what she has been
What every schoolboy remembers and will not come again
To think she’s the last of the Grand Banks Schooners
That fed so many men
And who will know the Bluenose in the sun?

- Stan Rogers

 

Posted by Joe Sep 06, 2011 Posted in Architectural History, Built Heritage Comments Off