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  • Writer's picturePatricia Gee

House Paint: A glimpse of history

Can you guess when the first interior walls were being painted?

Cave Paintings!

The paints used would have been made with different combinations of animal fat, clay, earth, soot, and groundwater. And for a change of colour, they would have used Bison blood!

In the 1600s, paint was made by grinding pigment and oil with a common mortar and pestle. This would make a thick paste - something that is still used today, but at a higher price then those that are mass-produced.

It wasn't until the 1700s that the first paint mill opened, which was a simple granite trough with a granite ball - much like the mortar and pestle on a much larger scale.

In the 1600s, choosing to paint your house was met with disapproval and condemnation.

Puritans, specifically, viewed paint as an act of vanity, immodesty, excess, and even blasphemy. Painting your house was a criminal deed.

There is record of a Charleston preacher being charged with sacrilege for having painted the interior of his home.

Despite the views of the Puritans, painting one's home grew in popularity. As house paint was originally considered for protection, it wasn't until 1638 that the first home was painted for aesthetics: Ham House in Surrey, England.

Ham House is still standing to this day and is considered an historical site with a café, shop, and gardens to walk; and with guided tours of the interior.

In the 1700s, "Haint Blue" (a soft blue-green) porch ceilings were common in the deep south of the USA. These were thought to ward off evil spirits, and are still present to this day.

Blue porch ceilings were also a common feature during the Victorian Era. The Victorians loved all natural colours (browns, greens), and a light blue porch ceiling matched perfectly with the sky. It also helped extend daylight.

It is also thought to fool insects, such as wasps, into thinking the porch ceiling is the sky and to make their nests elsewhere.

A common request for Americans at this time, was to have their walls to be painted to look like wood. Some even demanded to have their walls to resemble marble or even bronze. It was not uncommon for the ceilings to resemble the blue summer sky, clouds and all.

In 1866, future Fortune500 company, Sherwin-Williams was founded by Henry Sherwin and Edward Williams in Cleveland, Ohio.

Henry Sherwin created the tin paint cans we still use today. Until this invention, consumers were unable to reseal the paint they had purchased.

Water and oil were the primary bases used in paint from the 17th to the 19th century.

Then lead was introduced. Lead was an incredible asset, as it added durability to house paint. Then the side effects were discovered.

Lead paint was found to be extremely toxic. Entire houses were covered in lead paint and the people were breathing in its poisonous fumes. This lead to lead poisoning and allergies. It was banned in Canada in 1960, but it wasn't banned until 1978 in the USA.

As of more recent, oil-based products have also been banned in both Canada and the USA, as they have been found to be environmentally hazardous - even after curing times. There are still some alkyd products available for purchasing, such as rust paints and lacquers, but only in smaller quart size quantities.

And this is the end of a short trip down history lane. There is much rich history surrounding painting; and I hope this has given a small, but intriguing, glimpse in to that history.

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