Project Commentaries: Restoring an Arts and Crafts fireplace
By Al R. Young
The primary objective was to remove white paint obscuring the brick and custom mosaics, features original to the house in 1908. A full-length mirror propped against the right side of the mantel obscures that half of the fireplace.
This process shot shows the left half of the fireplace stripped of paint. The left arrow shows where the first mosaic is located (protected by cardboard). The righthand arrow shows the location of the accompanying mosaic.
Paint has been removed from surrounding brick and mortar. Paint covering the mosaic protected it from the caustic paint-stripper used on the brick.
A heat gun softens the paint on top of the mosaic. Working on a few square inches at a time, paint is loose to be removed when it starts bubbling.
A scraper, made from hardwood, is used to remove the softened paint. A metal scraper can scratch the tiles. Plastic scrapers are an option, but they tend to melt against hot tiles.
For the sake of workers as well as the artifact, it is important to review documentation such as the Preservation Briefs, published by the National Park Service, as well as other specialized materials before a restoration project of this kind. (For example, see Preserving Historic Ceramic Tile Floors.)
The softness of the grout presented the ever-present hazard of dislodging a tessera (a piece of the mosaic).
Denatured alcohol removes the slight film of paint, remaining after scraping, before the tile is re-grouted.
Completion of this phase means only that no paint remains anywhere on or within the mosaic. A consderable amount of work, however, remains to be done before restoration is complete.