History Unraveled: Stenciling Historic Settings at North House!

In the early 1800s stenciling was the way to go if you wanted to decorate your walls and floors.  Wallpapering was new and expensive, while stenciling was easy to do and not a cost-prohibitive venture.

Many patterns can be traced back to colonial New England.

That being said, stenciled walls were therefore, all the rage.  Many rooms in private homes, as well as taverns and public spaces, were heavily stenciled to give an elevated look.  Many patterns can be traced back to colonial New England.  They were an easy way to apply pattern to walls and fabric alike.

Skimmed milk was used to make paint by adding dry pigments. 

Stencil patterns varied greatly from home to home and business to business.  One constant was the Willow Tree.  The willow was the early American symbol for long life and immortality. The Star Hotel Tavern Room in Lewisburg will soon carry their own version of the Willow Tree prominently centered over the mantle of the fireplace.  Patterns were often taken from nature-leaves, wildflowers, vines, trees, birds and stars.  Skimmed milk was used to make paint by adding dry pigments.  Walls were first painted an ochre (mustard yellow), gray, or raspberry wash, and then were stenciled with patterns selected in rich vivid colors – red, black, green, rust, and ochre.

Deep borders known as friezes, ran along the ceilings and more narrow borders dropped vertically to the floors, around doors and windows, and along the baseboard of the room.  Narrow borders were used to divide the walls into panels where they created central motifs, such as large flowers, sunbursts, willows, oak-leaf clusters, flowering sprays, and woven baskets containing flowers.  Often times designs with thistles, poppies, sunflowers, or strawberries promised summer’s bounty and the fragrance of a nearby forest.

The Pineapple was a very popular symbol that represented hospitality.  In New England, many people on inland farms chose the Pineapple for their walls, although it is likely that in the early 1800s they had never seen a real one.  Perhaps they heard that in famous colonial seaports when a ship’s Captain was safely home from the sea, he would place a pineapple over his doorway indicating that it was an open house with food and drink for all.  Thus, many people, if they couldn’t have a pineapple on their table, had them adorning their walls.

The North House Museum is once again home to Frazer’s Star Hotel Tavern Room.  A tavern room enjoyed by those traveling to Lewisburg, Virginia from 1836 through 1854.  Stenciling the Tavern Room has been an ongoing project since its opening in July.  The North House Museum is located beside Carnegie Hall and New River Community & Technical College at 814 Washington St. W. in downtown Lewisburg. Hours vary through the holiday season. Call 304-645-3398. 

– by Debra Marquis-Cascio (museum associate and resident stenciler). HashtagWV #138. (Dec-Jan 2022)

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