Theses Master's

The Evolution of American “Historic Color Palettes”

Alam, Tania

“Historic Color Palette” is a group of paint colors that are supposed to have a historic connection to architecture. This thesis is a look at how these color palettes came into existence and how they have developed over time. The concept of linking certain color groups to particular time-periods and places is an intriguing one. It first emerged in the United States as a descriptor of historic colors discovered at Colonial Williamsburg. With time the palettes have extended beyond the Colonial period and now include even the mid-century modern. These palettes have grown over time to become a popular means of creating visual connections to the past. But what do these colors represent?
This thesis was initially undertaken to explore where “historic color palettes” came from and to examine the evolution of the special color collections that form the American “Historic Color Palettes.” Representing specific regions and time-periods in history, the “historic color palette” is an important means of telling the story of the nation.
For this research, a number of “historic color palettes” were selected as case-studies. These were not limited to palettes being produced commercially, and also included lesser-known palettes, which have made significant contributions to the development of respective areas. The research process entailed the study of historic paint brochures and early paint advertisements, along with archival research and interviews with people working in the development of the historic palettes. Advances in architectural paint research techniques and methodologies in the twentieth century have made it possible to identify many of the original colors that were used in different periods of the American history.
The study and examination of these palettes led to the discovery that the “historic color palette” has not always been developed using evidence found in and on historic buildings. It has evolved as an amalgam of scientific paint analysis, historical research and imagination. It has also played a variety of roles primarily as a sales tool, educational model and proponent of historic preservation. The findings from this research however raise important questions of authenticity of the “historic color palette” and its effect as a tool promoting historic preservation in the United States.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Jablonski, Mary A.
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
July 6, 2017