By Jeffrey Larry, Preservation Manager
In 1985 renowned paint historian Matthew Mosca visited Lincoln’s Cottage, then known as Anderson Cottage, to assist the Soldier’s Home in identifying significant wall and trim finishes that could be dated to the Lincoln era of occupation. Among his many findings was evidence of decorative painting on the walls of the Cottage vestibule that appeared to imitate black walnut paneling. Mosca suggests in his report that the finishes in the vestibule may have been part of the “repairs, and refitting & furnishing” that Mary Lincoln requested and are listed in an 1864 invoice as totaling over $3000.00
The Soldiers Home however did not have the resources to follow up on this discovery and at some point the walls were covered with protective metal panels. Twenty two years would pass before the decorative painting was rediscovered when the metal panels were removed during the National Trust’s interior restoration of the Cottage.
Vestibule walls after removal of metal panels in 2007. The dark brown areas represent the rails and stiles of the dado with the lighter area in the middle representing a panel.
As evident in the photograph, moisture infiltration has contributed to the deterioration of the plaster and paint. Over the past few years steps were taken by Lincoln Cottage to reduce the moisture problem but the plaster and paint continued to slowly deteriorate. Thanks to a generous grant from the National Trust’s Historic Sites Fund, conservator Catherine S. Myers of Myers Conservation in Philadelphia, PA was commissioned to document the existing conditions and perform the delicate task of stabilizing the painted surface while consolidating the disaggregated plaster and reattaching loose plaster to the brick substrate. Areas where the plaster is completely lost will be filled with a plaster that matches the original in composition. The project is expected to begin in June of 2013.
A second phase, presently unfunded, will involve addressing any remaining moisture issues, additional paint analysis to better understand how the entire vestibule looked during Lincoln’s time and a discussion on how those finishes could be displayed.
Anyone interested in learning more about this project or how they can support the second phase can contact Jeffrey Larry, Preservation Manager, at JLarry@savingplaces.org.