Thursday, April 29, 2010

Coming Up Next: The Slave Quarters

Now that we've mostly completed the Southwest Outbuilding and Northwest Stair Passage restoration and reinterpretation, staff is moving on to the next project on our list. This project is restoring and reinterpreting the slave quarters. The slave quarters were built in 1939, supposedly on original foundations (though archaeological work has not discovered those foundations). These buildings are the types that house slaves and skilled slaves might have lived in--they are much closer to the Great House and made of stronger materials (stone, instead of wood) than those lived in by field slaves. Thus, we are using what we know to help us tell the story of the enslaved people working in and around the house at Stratford Hall.

Phil Mark will begin restoration on the buildings in May, and Gretchen Goodell is hard at work researching the people's stories that we are going to include in these buildings (you'll hear more about these parts of the projects in the coming months). We have two slave quarters--one will continue as an interpreted space, where visitors can learn about the enslaved people who would have lived here, their relationships, and their lives. The other slave quarters building is going to become a hands-on history area for families to use. This is where my work comes in.

I'm currently researching hands-on history areas at various historic sites and deciding what kinds of activities we will be including in our own. This space will be open during the same time as the Great House, and parents will be able to take their children there to do activities throughout the day. We will have fun activities available for young children--like building blocks--and we'll also provide 18th-century costumes that children can dress up in, a discovery chest for learning about some of the items that can be found at Stratford Hall, and colonial games that children will be able to play with throughout the day. These are just a few of the activities we'll be providing once this space opens in October.

We're hoping that having this hands-on space will give parents more activities to do with their children at Stratford Hall. Coupling the hands-on area with our Signers' Club program that's already available (this program is similar to the Junior Ranger program with the National Park Service) will provide a number of activities for children of all ages.

We'll be updating you throughout the summer on the progress on the slave quarters project!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Dressing J. Paxton the joiner: using primary documents

The collections team is working feverishly to get ready for the installation of the Southwest outbuilding next week.  One of my tasks in all of this is to create a furnishing plan that draws on what we know about Stratford and its residents.  In the servants' chamber, we have chosen to highlight the domestic life of the skilled craftsmen who worked here based on archaeology and documentary research.  J. Paxton, a joiner, is one of our named residents.  From a surviving account book, we know he worked at Stratford, that he borrowed specialty planes from nearby Chantilly plantation, and that he was paid in cash as well as brandy and sugar.  But that's about it.

So we have the who, but how do you bring Paxton to life through objects when you have very few clues?  Well, I've been using 18th-century runaway advertisements from Virginia newspapers (here and here) as a start.  Strange, you may think, but take a look at the entries for indentured joiners* and you get a whole host of details about what joiners like Paxton wore, looked like, how they spoke, or their personality quirks.

"Run away from the subscriber, Robert Robinson, a valuable joiner and carpenter...had on, a fasionable good beaver hat, a fine cloth coat, of a parson's gray color, with hair buttons...light blue worsted (wool) stockings...wears in his sleeves either a pair of black or a pair of oval purple buttons set in yellow metal."

"Run away from the indented Servant Man named Hugh Rogers,...has light brown straight Hair, is very fond of Liquor, and when drunk is talkative and quarrelsome, but when sober is peaceable and of few Words, by Trade a Carpenter and Joiner, and can saw with the Whip Saw.  He had on, when seen upon the Road, a Check Shirt...and a fine Hat about Half worn."

A studied survey of these advertisements left me with a list of clothing and personal articles (as well as some good laughs).  Patterns began to emerge that helped illuminate the common dress of joiners working on Virginia plantations in the 18th century.  Early next week we'll install reproduction clothing in the chamber, reflecting those findings and ultimately bringing J. Paxton, the joiner, and his companions to light.

*To find indentured joiners in the Colonial Williamsburg database, browse under 'indentured' and then 'joiners' in the list.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Traditional Hand Ground Paint in the Stair Passage

We are on the home stretch in the Northwest Stair Passage. Each time I visit the project it looks a little closer to completion and its final designation as a functioning staircase. One of the most recent exciting activities that occured was the application of traditional hand ground linseed oil paint.

This paint was made by Erica Sanchez Goodwillie of Clinton, NY. Erica also spent a week here at Stratford Hall applying this special paint with the help of Jack Fisher of Plains, VA. The hand ground paint was made by hand grinding the pigments in the linseed oil. The pure pigments were then mixed with more linseed oil until a color match was achieved. At this point more linseed oil and chalk were added to extend the paint. Then, when it comes to applying the paint, it is a completely different beast than modern paint. When applying the paint you must be sure all surfaces are properly prepared or the paint will "flash," which means the paint loses its appropriate gloss. You must also be sure not to apply the paint too thick or it will wrinkle. These are only a couple of the differences between hand ground paint and paint we use today.

The colors used in this space were identified through Cross-section Paint Microscopy, done by Susan Buck of Williamsburg, VA. This is a process of taking small samples of paint and using a powerful microscope to analyze the paint history of the room's elements. We were lucky to have enough paint history retained in areas to provide us with an accurate representation of how the Stair Passage would have been painted during Light Horse Harry's time.

In the lower space of the Stair Passage, all the woodwork--including the chair rail, door archtraves and the mantel--was painted a light gray color. The stair elements (hand rail, balusters, risers) will be painted a "Spanish Brown". All the baseboards in the Stair Passage will be painted a dark black-brown. The most exciting color that was identified during the paint analysis was on the main floor woodwork. The color that was identified to be in place was Verdigris--this is a bright vibrant green color that you would have found in the nicer homes of this time period.

The processes of discovering the paint colors, having the paints made, and having them applied has been very exciting. I am looking forward to seeing this space complete with all the colors and woodwork in place, and I'm also very excited to hear the responses from you and our visitors to this restored space.