Back To Schedule
Friday, June 1 • 9:30am - 10:00am
(Architecture) Can’t Touch This! The Treatment of Original Distemper Painted Plaster Walls

Log in to save this to your schedule, view media, leave feedback and see who's attending!

In May of 2016, members of the Department of Conservation and Technical Research at the Walters Art Museum began to investigate the original plaster walls in the library of 1 West Mount Vernon Place, which is now a part of the museum complex. This impressive family home was designed by architects Niernsee and Neilson and was completed by1851. After a series of other owners and uses, the building was given to the museum by the City of Baltimore in 1984. It subsequently underwent significant renovations and opened to the public in 1991 as a gallery of Asian Art. In 2016, after 25 years of use, upgrades to the HVAC system and the installation of a fire suppression system led to the temporary closure of the building and allowed for gallery refurbishments. When the conservation department was asked to remove fabric paneling from the library so that it could be replaced, they were surprised to find that the original painted ornamental plaster that had not been viewed since 1991 was largely intact. This raised and decoratively painted ornamental plaster was first covered with fabric in the 1890s when the house underwent significant alterations. At that time, many of the high points of the plaster had been chiseled off to allow the fabric panels to span the walls without distortion. In addition, later upgrades, including the installation of gas and electric lines for wall sconces and an air duct were made without regard to the plaster walls. Despite these interventions, the original color scheme and decorative painting were intact, especially in the protected upper areas of the walls. One interesting feature of the design was the use of faux wood graining on the raised plaster elements. The faux wood graining integrated the painted plaster with the surrounding woodwork. Early hand-colored photographs of the room also show that there was an elaborate ornamental plaster ceiling that was later covered with a wooden beam ceiling. Despite numerous alterations to the room, the conservation staff advocated for the preservation and display of this rare survival of an original architectural painted finish. Given the size of the project, the conservation department contracted additional help to complete the conservation and restoration of the library walls. Once the project started, the extreme sensitivity of the distemper painted finish to water and polar solvents posed significant challenges in the selection of treatment materials and methods. The application of any sort of mold making material to the friable and readily stained painted surface was impossible, meaning that a “touch-less” method was needed to re-create large missing raised plaster elements. A partnership with the 3-D scanning and printing program at Harford Community College provided some creative solutions for this project. Silicone solvents aided in removing some large spackle repairs from the walls by providing a safe way to remove a water-soluble material from a water-soluble surface. The material challenges of this project led to creative solutions that can hopefully be adapted for future use in architecture and other specialties.

avatar for Stephanie Marie Hulman

Stephanie Marie Hulman

Conservator, Decorative Arts Conservation, LLC
Stephanie Hulman is a conservator of decorative and historic finishes, and she has been working in the field of heritage preservation since 2005. She earned her Master of Science in Art Conservation degree from the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation in 2012... Read More →

Tia Polidori

Conservation Technician, Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library
Tia is a conservation technician working on a two-year IMLS grant at Winterthur recoating silver objects in the Winterthur collection.

Friday June 1, 2018 9:30am - 10:00am MDT
Texas Ballroom C Marriott Marquis Houston
  6. Specialty Session, Architecture