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Showcasing Traditional Finishes in Monticello’s Tea Room

By
Lucy Midelfort

Just before Thanksgiving, the Restoration Department at Monticello undertook a project to repaint the Tea Room for the first time in decades. The room, used by Thomas Jefferson, his family, and guests for entertaining, reading, writing, and occasionally dining, is also where he displayed his "most honorable suite" of his friends and American heroes, including busts of Benjamin Franklin, John Paul Jones, Marquis de Lafayette, and George Washington.

Before repainting the room, we continued our ongoing investigation for evidence of where pictures or curtains may have been hung at Monticello. In the Tea Room we located one potentially Jefferson-era picture hanging hole on the southeastern wall. We also found possible locations of curtain tie backs on two of the four windows. Having curtains on only two windows is unusual. Because the two windows where we found tie back holes are those that look into the space from the Piazza and the north corner terrace, we speculate that Jefferson used these curtains as a privacy screen. These findings will help Monticello’s curators furnish the space to a degree of accuracy never seen before.

Looking for evidence of original hardware

In order to showcase the nuanced quality of traditional linseed oil based paints like those that would have been applied in Jefferson’s era, we chose to use a custom, traditional linseed-oil paint using hand-ground pigments on all the woodwork in the Tea Room. Experts in traditional paints also applied it over a priming coat of hand-mixed shellac.

Painting in the Tea Room

Traditional linseed oil paint takes weeks to fully cure, and thus the gloss level evolves over time to a ropey finish where the brush strokes are more visible than with modern latex paints. Now that painting is complete, the curators have reinstalled room’s furniture for the holidays. It is a great time to visit Monticello and see the traditional paint for yourself!

The Tea Room, repainted

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