The Old North Church Wants to Figure out Which Color It Was Painted 300 Years Ago
Preservationists at the Old North Church have one objective this winter—to find out how the church was decorated in colonial times.
They’ll do it through paint analysis, or peeling back the centuries-old layers of paint and taking samples of them. Eventually, the researchers hope to create a historically accurate palette of paint colors that will serve as a guide to repainting the church’s interior.
As paint is collected for the next two months, each sample is put under a microscope, and the its chemical makeup is examined. Then the inferred color is cross-referenced with church archives (like minutes from church meetings) which note when parts of the church were being repainted and what color.
“They take a big piece of duct tape and put six rectangles in it,” explains Stephen Ayres, Executive Director of the Old North Church and Foundation. “And in each one they pull one more layer away to show the comparison.”
Paint analysts have worked at the Old North Church before—the first analysis was conducted by the National Park Service in 1978. According to the report, the church looked very different from the soft pastel-colored walls of today, circa the 1990s. Instead, the paint colors between 1723 and 1775 were thought to be much more vibrant.
Ayres says records indicate that the cast iron rope from which the chandeliers hang was painted Prussian blue with vermillion accents. In addition, the front of the galleries were painted in a faux-wood finish and images of cherubs were painted in the arches above the galleries.
The plans for the church’s paint job come before a major restoration of the church for its 300th birthday in 2023.
Ayres says they’re aiming to channel the style of what the church looked like when Paul Revere lighted his lanterns.
“We would like to move it back to a more appropriate colonial color scheme,” he says. “We’re not going to mimic precisely what we find, we just want to know what the color palette is so we can make some education decisions about how to bring it back.”