Quite a bit has been published concerning the cottage industry of the
colonists, i.e. construction of homes, furniture of necessity,
homespun yarns and homemade clothing.
Paint was also a homemade product. Many houses were unpainted, and
since paint sealed in the moisture, these unpainted homes were
susceptible to wood rot. Other folks showed their pride by painting
Red was the most popular color used because it was the easiest color to make.
A person would obtain the pigment at the general store – red ochre –
a color now named Venetian red. This pigment was the only store
bought ingredient that went into making paint.
The process. Pigment was mixed with whey from the making of
cheese or butter milk. Red paint made with this buttermilk is often
the paint used on older homes and furniture especially in the New
England areas. One quality of buttermilk red paint was that it
rarely, if ever, faded.
Years ago, my wife and I had an old mahogany stand painted in red
paint, undoubtedly red ochre base. Stripping it was a lost cause as
the paint had penetrated deep into the grain.
Lead paint. As time progressed, white lead was employed on
everything for over a 100 years. A few homes were painted with yellow
ochre, however most were red or white.
Next came linseed oil paints, as some old-timers mixed the red ochre
with linseed oil. Application of paint was accomplished with homemade
A few folks made their paint utilizing animal fat, remainders of
other paint residue, and rusting metal grindings.
These were ground on a small iron mill which looked like a millstone.
This reground residue and fat ingredient was often mixed with red
ochre which would mask almost any other coloring.
The result was often thick putty which had to be thinned with linseed
oil or turpentine.
Personal journey. Why am I so familiar with the qualities of
red paint? As a boy, I was often required to paint a barn door almost
weekly, with dozens of coats, to teach me to follow orders and keep