Coats of Many Colours

Our seminar on ‘Colour & Finish in Heritage Ironwork’ in London on 15th November 2018 featured a wide variety of fascinating and highly knowledgeable experts sharing their passion for all things bright and colourful.

Bethan Griffiths of the Ironwork Studio began the day by addressing the preconception that ironwork always was and always should be black. She tackled several myths around the subject, including the most pervading that Queen Victoria insisted on black ironwork in mourning for Prince Albert (an idea somewhat debunked by the highly colourful Albert Memorial). However, she did emphasise that of course black has every right to be included as an option.

Patrick Baty followed this with a comprehensive tour through the history of architectural ironwork coatings and colours, covering the traditional process of making paints and what pigments were used. He included many examples to illustrate the use of colours, and how they changed over time, including the sample above (top) taken from the railings in front of Benjamin Franklin House in London.

Charlotte Owen then examined the paint researcher’s role and explained why paint research is such an important part of the conservation process. She encouraged people to contact paint researchers and to have a conversation with them about their proposed projects.

Following this, Kathryn Ferry shared her extensive research on Victorian architect Owen Jones and his colour theories. Jones promoted architectural polychromy and stood out among his peers in his willingness to embrace iron as a building material.  He met with significant opposition to his colourful decoration schemes for the Great Exhibition and Crystal Palaces, highlighting that the debate about colour is certainly not a new one!

Peter Meehan then looked at conserving coatings and finishes but suggested it is tricky when also trying to reinstate practical functionality, particularly in the case of exterior ironwork. Peter covered the various options available, with varying degrees of coatings retained.

After this, Brian Hall talked about the restoration of the Hereford Screen where instead of the original colour scheme being used (as in the international exhibition) the colour scheme used elsewhere in the cathedral was deployed. Additionally, because the paint colours were hand-mixed, there were differences across the same colours that had been applied.

Bethan finished with a look at how to establish a colour scheme where no original scheme of paint layers exist. She looked at older pieces that had little paint chronology from earlier than the 1970’s and newly commissioned work in heritage settings. She considered how historically influenced palettes could be created through extensive research of context in a variety of areas.

The day was very well-received with thought-provoking questions and observations throughout.


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