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Architectural Finishes: Research and Analysis

The research and analysis of architectural paints — intended to understand their color, appearance, and composition— has been underway in the fields of architectural and fine-arts conservation for nearly a century. A.P. Laurie and R. J. Gettens were experimenting with techniques for cross-section analysis in the fine arts as early as the first quarter of the twentieth century.1 In the 1960s renowned preservation figures such as Penelope Hartshorne Batcheler of the National Park Service and Morgan Phillips of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now Historic New England) extended the scope of these earlier methods to historic buildings, and modern architectural-finishes research was born.2 The discipline of architectural-finishes research has come a long way since the early twentieth century. It is now widely regarded as an essential part of the documentation process for historic buildings. However, the ways in which finishes research is performed can be quite varied. There is no single approach or methodology for how such a study should be conducted or for what one should expect when commissioning one. The following article is intended to provide preservation practitioners, as well as their clients, with an understanding of what comprehensive finishes research should entail and what sort of product one should expect when hiring a paint conservator. It is by no means meant to be an exhaustive discussion of all paint analysis techniques but instead is a brief overview of common procedures followed by conservators specializing in this area.