Historic paint finish consultant Matthew J. Mosca obtains a paint sample from a surface in the Verandah-Curlee House. His findings will help guide the interior restoration.
Like a detective probing forensic clues, Matthew J. Mosca spent the past week examining peeling paint and bits of plaster to uncover the original colors and wood finishes of the Verandah-Curlee House interior.
His observations, combined with laboratory analysis, will be compiled in a report to be submitted to the Siege and Battle of Corinth Commission in February to guide the interior restoration of the home.
A historic paint finishes consultant with more than 30 years of experience, Mosca did paint investigations for Mt. Vernon, Carnton Plantation near Franklin, Tenn., and Carter House. During the summer, he investigated the original colors for the U.S. ambassador’s home in Paris.
In the parlor of the Verandah-Curlee House, which he described as “the most elaborate and interesting room” with its intricate plasterwork, he found the predominant colors to be white and pale gray with some possible wallpapering of recessed panels.
Different types of paints were used through the years. The oldest is water soluble, and he also found zinc oxide white on some of the parlor surfaces.
“It was highly prized just about the time that this house was built,” said Mosca. “It was a relatively new pigment that came on the market and became popular for two reasons — one, it was not poisonous the way lead white was, and it was a brighter white. It was considered more fashionable, more desirable.”
One splash of color he uncovered in the parlor is the ceiling medallion, which appeared to have a light yellow color.
The 1929 renovations by the Curlee family appear to have included a dado treatment and some additional moldings.
He examined the original plaster underneath in the dining room, finding “what appears to be a light gray water soluble paint, which was very popular in the 19th century for plaster, and that may be the original finish,” said Mosca. “It’s also entirely possible that it’s not from the war era, but from after, and that this room might have been wallpapered.”
The different layers and the passage of time will pose some restoration challenges.
“The house evidently was closed up for 20 years without heat, and one of the results of that is the paints are failing on these plaster surfaces because the water soluble paint, which is the earliest one, is also the most fragile type of finish,” said Mosca. “Later on, it was painted with oil-based paints, which is never a good idea, and then latex on top of that. Because of the incompatibilities of these materials, there’s a lot of shrinking and tensions that have built up in the paint layers.”
In some areas, the paint has crazed, resulting in a cracked pattern like very dry earth.
“At least in the case of the medallion, I have been able to remove the layers quite easily,” said Mosca. “But on the walls, on the tablature, what’s happening is that the face of the plaster is being pulled away by the tension. And while it’s not a problem for flat surfaces, it means quite a bit of restoration will have to take place for the cast plaster.”
With micro-chemical testing, Mosca can identify the constituents of paint finishes. He examines pigments using polarized light and UV fluorescent microscopy.
Visiting Corinth for the first time, Mosca said he found the Verandah-Curlee House to be an impressively and thoughtfully designed structure with an interesting story to tell.
He is based in Baltimore, Maryland.