Wednesday, February 1, 2023

New research leads to changes in Governor’s Palace Great Hall

The walls of the Great Hall in Colonial Williamsburg's Governor's Palace will be repainted. (Courtesy Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)
The walls of the Great Hall in Colonial Williamsburg’s Governor’s Palace will be repainted. (Courtesy Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)

When Colonial Williamsburg’s Governor’s Palace reopens on Jan. 27, the walls of its Great Hall will showcase a fresh coat of paint and a more historically accurate appearance.

The walls of the Governor’s Palace’s Great and Stairway Halls are currently paneled in dark-stained walnut and are used to display the colony’s arms.

However, new research from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s preservation, conservation and curatorial teams indicates the walls used by the English in the 18th century to showcase arms were painted lighter colors, according to a Colonial Williamsburg Foundation press release.

As a result, the Great Hall will be repainted this month during the palace’s annual preventative maintenance period starting Sunday. The Stairway Hall and stairway will be repainted in January 2019.

Director of Colonial Williamsburg’s Grainger Department of Architectural Preservation and Research Matt Webster said he is confident the original Governor’s Palace’s Great and Stairway Halls were painted lighter colors.

“Change is challenging for historic sites, but we study the past for a reason,” Webster said. “Often our work shows us that we got something wrong, and we correct it.”

Webster added that wall-mounted arms displays at the Tower of London, Hampton Court, Chevening House and St. James’ Palace have lighter colors. Documentary sources by Erik Goldstein, Colonial Williamsburg’s senior curator of mechanical arts and numismatics, also show the English painted arms displays with lighter colors.

The original Governor’s Palace was destroyed by a fire in 1785, and Colonial Williamsburg completed its reconstruction in 1934. The blueprint was based upon historical records and evidence from archaeological excavations.

However, researchers did not have conclusive evidence as to the finish on the Great Hall, but the decision was made to finish them with dark-stained walnut, based on a charred fragment of wood dug up on site.

“Colonial Williamsburg is committed to its core educational mission of historical preservation and interpretation,” said Ronald L. Hurst, Carlisle H. Humelsine chief curator and vice president of collection, conservation and museums. “Preservation does not, however mean our work never changes. Instead, it is constantly evolving based on new research to provide an authentic reflection of one of the most critical periods in our shared history.”

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