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Art of Graining Used to Restore Doors

Friday, April 13, 2018

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In a bid to revitalize some of its historic assets, the University of Virginia hired John Canning Associates to “re-grain” the doors of Pavilions II, III and X, also known as Thomas Jefferson’s pavilions.

According to the university, re-graining is a traditional decorative technique that makes ordinary wood appear more rare and expensive. In this case, the pavilion doors, made out of pine, were painted to look like mahogany. Dave Riccio, a principal at John Canning Associates, noted that mahogany is a masculine wood, “while pine is a light wood.”

Previously, re-graining fell out of practice because it became too costly to maintain, but the late Murray Howard, then the University’s architect for the historic buildings, brought the practice back for the pavilion doors in the 1980s.

Doors to the Past

The graining on the pavilion doors was reportedly in poor shape previously, especially on those doors facing the east side of the Lawn, an area that gets less sunshine and where mildew was starting to turn the varnish cloudy.

University of Virginia

In a bid to revitalize some of its historic assets, the University of Virginia hired John Canning Associates to “re-grain” the doors of Pavilions II, III and X, also known as Thomas Jefferson’s pavilions.

The pavilion doors—all original, six-panel, Jeffersonian pieces—had accumulated between 30 and 40 layers of paint over the years. Craftsman Starr Hardridge, an Oklahoma artist working for Canning Associates, removed these layers down to the base wood, where the re-graining process could begin.

Starting with a base color, the door is then “flogged” with a mixture of pigment and ale. Any ale could be used, noted Hardridge, but if he were using dark pigments, he would use Guinness.

“The pigment needs to adhere to the door, and once the beer evaporates, the proteins in the beer will act as a binder to hold the paint,” Riccio said.

Woodgrain patterns are then drawn with a variety of brushes of different lengths, textures and thicknesses. The artist used a combination of mineral spirits, linseed oil and Japan drier, stirred together in a plastic container for his work.

Once the doors were grained and sealed with varnish, they were put back into place. There are currently plans to restore the graining on all the pavilion doors, but the university is waiting for the current graining to wear out first.

Canning Associates has also previously completed work on the university’s rotunda, as well as the central ceiling in Garrett Hall.


Tagged categories: Coatings Technology; Historic Preservation; Historic Structures; Renovation

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