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Tuesday, May 17 • 10:00am - 10:30am
(Architecture) Flash, Flame, and Finishes: Investigating Fire Damaged Architectural Finishes

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Fires were common occurrences in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Open flames from candles, cooking fires, oil-lamps, gas-lamps, coal stoves, cigars and cigarettes, arson, collections of combustible materials, and faulty electrical wiring all led to conflagration.  While large fires lead to the total loss of many structures, evidence of smaller fires were often just covered in new wallboard, pressed metal, or simply painted over.    Paint archaeology, the comparison of paint stratigraphies on various elements of a historic structure, is an important tool to gain a greater understanding of a historic space including alterations, additions, and changes in appearance over time.  Examination of paint samples can reveal evidence of fires in a building’s history.  Heat and flame damage to the decorative finishes can be seen in cross-sectional analysis as scorched, bubbled, or melted paint, and glazes with a caramelized appearance.  While these are obvious visual manifestations of physical changes in the material, are there changes in color or composition of either the pigment or the binder, which are undetected in these targeted finishes?    Previous research on fire-damaged paint has focused solely on the conservation of artistic paintings on canvas.  As the actual painted surface of these artistic works is significant and requires salvage, this research concentrated on methods aimed at restoring the surface of the painting, including repairing blistered paint and surface cleaning.  Architectural finishes, however, are often treated differently.  Frequently, the goal of cross-sectional analysis for architectural finishes is primarily color-matching to facilitate a reasonably faithful recreation of a historic space.   However, does intense the heat and flame make accurate color-matching impossible?  Research on the effects of fire on architectural painted finishes has been overlooked.  This presentation will discuss on-going research to determine if the original appearance of damaged paint in cross-section be deduced.  Paint samples and stratigraphies of known composition will be subjected to open flame and high heat at known temperatures commonly found in fires, and then analyzed in cross-section to determine what changes occurred.  Treated and untreated samples will be examined under simulated daylight and ultra-violet light to record color change and any physical alterations to the paint layers.  Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) will be performed on select layers to determine if any compositional changes occurred to the binders. Finally, pigments in select layers will be examined under polarized light to document any potential changes.  Once the changes in the paints have been identified, the challenge becomes, is it possible to determine the original composition and appearance of the historic material?  If so, can the changes be reversed?  Or, if the changes are consistent, can the color be adjusted by the conservator based on knowledge and experience?

avatar for Stephanie Hoagland

Stephanie Hoagland

Principal, Jablonski Building Conservation, Inc.
Stephanie M. Hoagland is a Principal and Architectural Conservator with Jablonski Building Conservation Inc. where she has been employed for the last 14 years. Ms. Hoagland has worked on a variety of preservation and conservation projects throughout the northeastern United States and Canada. She is a member of several preservation professional groups including the Association of Preservation Technology and the American Institute for the... Read More →
avatar for Helen Thomas-Haney

Helen Thomas-Haney

Principal, Jablonski Building Conservation, Inc.
Helen M. Thomas-Haney is a Principal at Jablonski Building Conservation. She earned a BA in Historic Preservation from The University of Mary Washington and an MS in Historic Preservation from Columbia University. Helen has more than 14 years of experience as an architectural conservator. She is currently an adjunct professor in the Historic Preservation program at Columbia University. Helen is a member of several preservation professional groups... Read More →

Tuesday May 17, 2016 10:00am - 10:30am
Room 515

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