Getting Plastered at the Workman House

Painted plaster remnant discovered in the Workman House northwest wing.
Painted plaster remnant discovered in the Workman House northwest wing.

The discoveries keep on coming at the Workman House, where renovation work in a circa 1870 brick bedroom revealed yet another surprise. Workers removing plaster from an adobe wall that is shared with an 1840s room were surprised to find a remnant of painted plaster that dates to at least 1856.

This fragment was part of a covering of what was once an exterior wall of the three-room adobe that forms the core of the structure. In the style of the exterior walls that you see at the Workman House today, small dabs of black paint were applied onto a gray coat of painted plaster to simulate granite blocks.

St. Nicholas chapel
St. Nicholas chapel

So far, the earliest description of the house with its painted plaster exterior walls comes from a visit to the Workman House in October 1856 by artist Henry Miller. While traveling throughout California making drawings of the missions, Miller stopped by the Workman House twice. On his second visit, he was asked to make sketches for a chapel (right) William Workman started the following spring and completed a few years later.

Miller then commented that “Mr. Workman’s house is a one story building of adobe and forms a square with a yard in the middle. The house is well finished, and painted with oil colors on the inside and outside, imitating marble, and afterwards varnished [italics added for emphasis].”

How much earlier before Miller’s visit this painted plaster existed is not known, but the discovery of the remnant obviously indicated that the wall was given this treatment before any room existed at the northwest section of the home. As mentioned in a recent post, there was an adobe room, about a third the size of the current space, constructed at an unknown date. This smaller adobe space was then replaced by the current brick room and the painted plaster was covered over, remaining hidden until this fragment was discovered.

Because the remnant was already separating from the wall and was badly damaged, pieces of it have been carefully removed and reassembled by collections staff members Melanie Tran and Michelle Villarreal for documentation, cataloging, and storage. It is very likely that some or all of the fragment, along with the wallpaper remnant discovered along the same wall and other notable finds, will be displayed when a new exhibit is installed in the house in the near future.

Many thanks to Assistant Director Paul Spitzzeri for contributing this post!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: