Rosedown’s Colorful New, Old Floorcloths

Think early American homes were without vibrant color?

Nope. “As odd as this may seem now, people in the 19th century were infatuated with color,” said artist Lisa Mair of Canvasworks Floorcloths. “When paint was made available in new, exciting colors, they went all out and used it wherever they could.”

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As part of an ongoing effort to accurately recreate the interior appearance of the historic Rosedown Plantation in St. Francisville, the State of Louisiana recently commissioned Mair to make four wall-to-wall painted canvas floorcloths.

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“The designs were suggested by William Seale, one of the country’s premier historians,” said Mair. Seale, who wrote the massive two-volume history of the White House, The President’s House: A History, “did a “Furnishings Study” for Rosedown several years ago.

He had specific ideas about what…would be most historically accurate for the period and the location. The vivid design downstairs “is a derivation of one of John Carwitham’s geometric patterns for floors from the 1790s,” said Mair.

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According to Seale,” the floorcloth, also called an ‘oilcloth’ was a practical, washable floor covering, forerunner of linoleum, and its inclusion in the restoration of Rosedown has brought to an otherwise formal interior the authentic human touch of a house that was actually lived in everyday 175 years ago.”

Here’s the upper landing Before and After the installation of the floorcloths:

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These were some of the largest floorcloths Mair has seen or made; they required more than 1500 square feet of canvas and over 40 gallons of paint products.

“They were so large they had to be made in pieces which were shipped separately and spliced together when installed,” said Mair. “The largest pieces were 10′ X 22′ and weighed almost 100 pounds when finished!”

Traditional techniques were used to shrink, prime, sand, paint and finish each canvas. The process took just over 200 hours to finish and four days to install, using cut copper tacks to secure each piece to the floor.

Traditional techniques, yes. But modern technology too. “The large format requires a lot of planning ahead,” said Mair. “I use CAD software to determine the scale and the placement of the individual pieces.”

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“I wanted the splices to appear at the least conspicuous area as was possible. Upstairs, all three floorcloths ran into each other, so I had to be sure the pattern continued seamlessly.”

Mair’s Mathematics degree helped her accurately transfer such a large, geometric design to the canvas. “I use a laser light, tape measures, 6′ long rulers, plastic triangles, a calculator (which does square roots) and a lot of scrap paper to get it right,” said Mair. “Squareness must be continuously checked. On the 35′ long hall piece, if I had gone off by 1/8″ at the beginning, I could have been off by a foot by the end!”

Since any image can be painted on canvas, floorcloths also translate well to a contemporary design:

Contemporary Floorcloth

Lisa Mair Floorcloths

Lisa Mair has created hundreds of reproduction floorcloths for museums and private homes throughout the country. All work is carried out in the 200-year old carriage house wing of her Classic Vermont farmhouse. For more information, to order a floorcloth of your own or a DIY floorcloth kit, visit Canvasworks Floorcloths. Or watch the production process on this video about Lisa’s work from Vermont Public Television.

Rosedown Plantation, encompassing 340 acres of its original 2500 acres in St. Francisville, LA is one of the most intact, documented examples of a domestic plantation complex in the South.

Tell us, what historic design has inpired you?

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11 Comments for “Rosedown’s Colorful New, Old Floorcloths”

Lisa
You are a master artisan!
Colleen

As a engineering tech./surveyor for 38 years,I am drawn to the compass rose. All of the geometric designs, seem to be my preferred patterns. Your mathematics degree and use of CAD at the Rosedown Plantation help to explain part of the outcome. I still marvel at the actual installation process, believe me I understand the problems of putting a design down on the ground.
Rich

Wow…what a great write up and I loved the photos. You must be very proud to know these floorcloth’s will stil bel in use many years from now…how cool is that!

Lisa,
Your work is just utterly amazing.
I am myself drawn to geometric and other designs.
I made 3 floor cloths in late 1970′s. It is so very technical.

I wonder about the sanding that was mentioned in the article.

Well, hats off to you!!! That makes a couple of winners, ehhhh? :)

Sandi and family

Lisa, your work is truly an inspiration! And your communications are an encouragement to beginners like me. Thanks for sharing your self with us.

Rich, The precision of Lisa’s work, especially on such a large scale, is truly impressive. And I’m with you about the compass rose; the beauty of that graphic motif and probably also some of the nautical and travel-related romance it suggests.

Colleen, you are so right.

– Kathy

Janet, Good point. I wonder how many artisans attempt to craft work that will be around for future generations? I guess being a part of an historic restoration helps one think about their work in that way.

Thanks for stopping by.
– Kathy

Hi Sandi,

Until seeing these floorcloths (and now your and Rich’s comments) I had not thought about how technical it is. Art, but with precision.

I will check with Lisa about the sanding in case that wasn’t accurate. She did read this but perhaps overlooked that like me.

Thanks,
Kathy

Barbara,

As a beginner at many things, I also find inspiration from artists like Lisa.

Thanks for visiting!
Kathy

The floors are beautiful and you are truly a great talent. I think those floor covering would look amazing in any application. I wonder, as well documented as Rosedown is, was there no indication of what was used on the floors when the house was built? Being a purist at heart, I’d like to see recreations of the original floor covering instead of one person’s idea or a historically accurate creation.

Hi David,

Good question. I wonder if Lisa is following this comment thread, so she’ll reply. I will try to send her an email to alert her to the question.

Thanks for your visit,
–Kathy

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