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Foundation Matters

New Floorcloth at the Nathaniel Russell House

Posted: April 4, 2023

Visitors to the Nathaniel Russell House are going to experience something dramatically different in the entry hall. Working with local artist Karl Beckwith Smith, HCF’s museums department is pleased and proud to report that a new floorcloth is now in place and on full view. Hand stenciled and painted on a 12×14-foot canvas, this new piece directly incorporates specific details found in an early period floorcloth fragment found during the kitchen house interior excavations.

When this fragment was first discovered and later examined for conservation, what was thought to be a single layer was actually two that had fused together over many years of exposure. That second layer, dating to circa 1820, revealed a specific pattern with colors mixed from vermilion made from cinnabar (likely imported from China) that wasn’t diluted or cut with red ochre or red lead as was the custom for the period to make it cheaper. Also, a bone-black pigment, far pricier than other blacks of their time and made from carbonization of animal bone, antler or sometimes ivory, was also present.

Final design, scaled down, for review

Stencil studies at artist studio

Of course, because evidence from the original fragment measured only about 5 inches in length some artistic liberties needed to be taken. Therefore, Karl Beckwith Smith and museum staff endeavored on a comprehensive research project to determine period designs appropriate to the general high style of the Nathaniel Russell House. Several different sketches and colorized renderings were put to paper and discussed before arriving at a final design.

Using some of the same materials and techniques of the early nineteenth century, Karl Beckwith Smith put his talents to work in his James Island studio to create a stunning piece. What he calls a rice and Greek Key design, Karl expertly incorporated known details from the fragment with a larger Vetruvian scroll inspired waving rice with rice birds and whale tails. The result is a stunning, multicolor handmade, period-appropriate interpretation.

-Grahame Long, Director of Museums, April 2023


left to right: Jason Paul Smith (artist), Karl Beckwith Smith (artist), Carin Bloom (Manager of Education and Programming), Heather Rivet (NRH Manager), Grahame Long (Director of Museums)

The new floorcloth, designed and created by artist, Karl Beckwith Smith, is installed at the Nathaniel Russell House Museum, open daily for tours. To visit the Nathaniel Russell House, purchase tickets HERE. To learn more about artist Karl Beckwith Smith, visit his website HERE.


One response to “New Floorcloth at the Nathaniel Russell House”

  1. Sarah says:

    Beautiful. I would love to buy something similar for my historic house. Fundraising idea?

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