The Technology Behind Preservation

Ever wonder how we keep 140 year old paint on the walls? Or what it takes to keep our plaster ceilings in tact?  

The simple answer is science. We don’t always think of science and history as going hand in hand, but in contemporary historic preservation practice, science has become increasingly important. In fact, many preservation graduate degrees, including my own, are given as a Master’s of Science.  

 In order to protect and preserve Drayton Hall we have become a probing  ground for cutting edge techniques including paint microscopy, GIS mapping as an architectural tool, and plaster consolidation. For example, this abstract-looking image could be just about anything, from an octopus tentacle to a microorganism, when in reality it is a magnified image of early 1700s vermilion stain found on the mahogany woodwork in the Stair Hall. It has this wonderful glowing color because it is shown under ultra-violet light, which helps the pigment to auto-fluoresce (a fancy word to describe the way certain paints glow under a black light).  

But don’t be intimidated by these scientific terms, as they all help us tell the story of Drayton Hall. It is only through these tests that we have learned the full history of paint schemes in the house, how to support the plaster ceiling in the Great Hall, and how to maintain the limestone columns on the portico. Science is a great tool in exploring history, and I hope that you can come out this Saturday and see it for yourself!  

-Betsy Kleinfelder, MS Historic Preservation, University of Pennsylvania ’08; Drayton Hall Senior Interpreter  

For more information: Preservation Technology Tour information

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