Beginning in April into the fall of 2021, scaffolding will cover the north and south ends of George Washington’s Mansion so that Mount Vernon’s preservation staff can undertake restoration work.

North Front, 1932 (MVLA, DA000217-065)First, the many layers of paint and sand will be removed. After the paint is removed, the preservation team will closely investigate the siding.

Next, the preservation carpenters will execute wood repairs. Additionally, the shutters, window sashes, and window surrounds (or architraves) will be systematically removed and areas of concern will be addressed.

Once all repairs are complete and the elements have been reinstalled, the front will receive fresh coats of sand and paint – using the same process that Washington described - returning it to its 1799 appearance.

Frequently Asked Questions

Wooden Siding

While the exterior might appear to be made of stone, it is actually wooden siding that has been worked to achieve the look of stone blocks by first beveling and notching the siding boards (a process called rustication). To make this illusion even more convincing, sand is thrown onto wet paint to create a rough texture like the texture of stone. Luckily, we have letters written by Washington stating exactly why he wanted to coat the house in sand. In one, to White House architect William Thornton, dated October 1, 1799, Washington noted,

Sanding, is designed to answer two purposes—durability, & representation of Stone; for the latter purpose, and in my opinion a desirable one; it is the last operation, by dashing, as long as any will stick, the Sand upon a coat of thick paint. This is the mode I pursued with the painting at [Mount Vernon]…

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Mount Vernon’s modern painting and sand-casting process replicates that last used by Washington’s painters in the 18th century, with one exception to account for the shifting, weathering, and repairing that has occurred since 1797. The 18th-century process involved one coat of an oil primer, followed by one thick coat of oil paint. While the final coat of oil paint was still wet, sand was thrown (by hand) at the siding until there was an even application.

This year, we will follow this process; but, in order to ensure that there will be as uniform and level a surface as possible, we will apply an additional coat of paint and sand, for a total of two coats. Our layers will include: one coat of an oil primer, a first coat of paint and sand, and a second coat of paint and sand. On top of the first coat of paint, after first sifting the sand, we will apply only the fine particles of sand to achieve that leveling. Then, on top of the second coat of paint, again after sifting, we will apply the mixed particles of sand.

The base paint color will continue to be a creamy white or off-white typical of lead-whites of the 18th century. This color will be visible on the window frames, while the siding boards will receive the coating of sand. The sand is slightly darker than the paint and, as the sand was intended to be the dominant color, it will give the finished surface a warm color evocative of stone. The color is based on laboratory analysis of the early paint and sand on surviving siding boards, as well as Washington’s own words.

The Work Continues

Over the next few years, the east side of the Mansion will undergo the same process of paint removal, assessment, documentation, repair, repainting, and sanding-casting to ensure Washington’s home is preserved for generations to come.

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