Paint detectives: Colour & chemistry

Friday October 29 – 7:30 p.m. at the Almonte United Church Social Hall

Speaker: Nancy E. Binnie

Topic: Paint detectives: Colour & chemistry
Hidden by design: Paint research and the re-discovery of historic building decoration


Architectural paint research is a discipline faced with the challenge of trying to understand the decorative changes which have taken place in buildings over time. Old private homes and public buildings were sometimes decorated with coloured paint, gilding, stencil work, faux finishes, murals, wallpaper, and other embellishments to the architectural design. Traces of original or earlier paint and decoration now hidden from view can often be found by the systematic sampling of surfaces. The comprehensive examination of all types of surfaces (for example – floor, baseboards, walls, cornices, ceilings, medallions, door and window casings, etc.) can result in the discovery of earlier colour chronologies and coordinated design changes can often be suggested. The information generated from these investigations contributes to an understanding of the heritage character of the building, and can be used to develop specifications for building rehabilitation or for the interpretation of earlier design schemes. This presentation will describe the stages of an architectural paint research project including how samples are taken, methods of analysis and how the colour/composition chronology are presented. Examples will be presented from the following buildings:

  • Glanmore House National Historic Site (1882-83), Belleville – a historic house museum;
  • The Federal Building, Winnipeg (1937) – a stenciled ceiling in the entrance lobby;
  • The former Bank of Montreal building (1928-1931) located on Sparks Street, Ottawa – to be refurbished as the new Ceremonial Room 200 for the House of Commons;
  • The tropical greenhouse (1928) located at the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa – a working greenhouse scheduled for maintenance rehabilitation.

Speaker’s Profile:

Nancy E. Binnie, Senior Conservation Scientist, Canadian Conservation Institute, Department of Canadian Heritage, Ottawa, Canada

Nancy Binnie has worked at the Canadian Conservation Institute since 1988 as a Conservation Scientist after graduating from Carleton University with BSc and MSc degrees in chemistry. One of her main areas of work involves colour documentation and the development of long-term monitoring programs for archival and museum artifacts including documents such as the Proclamation of the National Flag of Canada, and paintings and Inuit textiles on long-term museum display. Her work in the architectural conservation field has contributed to reinstatement projects for nationally important heritage sites as well as buildings of regional heritage importance. Recent projects include

  • Rideau Hall – the Ballroom and front entrance lobby
  • Fanshawe Pioneer Village – Churches, a schoolhouse and several homes
  • Harrington Lake, Stornoway, and Kingsmere — Official Residences of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and the Speaker of the House
  • London Normal School — now a teacher’s college in London, Ontario,

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