Analyzing Mortars and Stuccos at the College of Charleston: A Comprehensive Approach
Modern methods of investigation are essential to our exploration of traditional crafts and materials. When combined with historical research, techniques such as petrographic examination and instrumental analysis can help us understand how certain materials were manufactured, when and where they were used, and why they were selected for particular applications. Yet these techniques are underutilized in our field. Collaboration between conservator and materials scientist does not occur often enough, even though it can lead to a wealth of new information about the provenance of building materials.
This type of collaboration proved critical to understanding the history of material use for three historically significant buildings at the College of Charleston, in Charleston, South Carolina Randolph Hall, Towell Library, and Porter’s Lodge. In fact, the combination of extensive historical research and technical investigation revealed that the range of binders used in the mortar materials of these buildings represents a general trend in the historic availability of lime and cement products. This campus serves as a microcosm of sorts, representing the evolution of available binders for mortar materials in the United States. This discovery would not have been possible if historical research had not been performed first and if the materials scientist had not played a key role in the technical investigation.