Century old hidden wall murals discovered

Region of Waterloo Museums staff have uncovered additional wall paintings at McDougall Cottage dating back over 100 years.

The most intriguing architectural feature of McDougall Cottage is its trompe l’oeil (French – to deceive, or trick the eye) ceiling friezes, painted circa 1906-1907 by Jack Baird, brother of the Cottage’s second owner James Baird. This type of hand-painted room decoration was most frequently encountered in the homes of well-to-do families, but in this instance may have been a creative solution in place of wallpaper, which was more expensive than paint and canvas at the time.

Oral tradition suggested that more wall paintings might exist in the Cottage’s dining room. Michelle Bartlett-Rozad, Historic Site Specialist at the Cottage, said “staff were very curious to find out whether this tradition was true.” Various investigative methods were used, including paint cross-section analysis and infrared photography, to determine whether such “hidden” paintings did indeed exist beneath the more recent layers of paint. These initial tests proved to be inconclusive.

Further investigations began on sections of the dining room walls. Staff conservator Roberta Sealy described: “My process involved carefully removing the upper paint layers through chemical and mechanical means. This proved successful, revealing sections of mural showing a striped motif of cream, brown, and maroon faux wood graining and large sections of blue-green on the upper wall.” Excited by the results, Region of Waterloo Museums hired Toronto Art Restoration Inc.  to remove the layers of paint to reveal the century old wall murals.

McDougall Cottage, a circa 1858 granite and limestone labourer's home, is located in downtown Cambridge in the historic factory district on the banks of the Grand River. This Cottage was home for more than a century to two families of Scots, the McDougalls and the Bairds. Today, the Cottage serves as a historic site celebrating Cambridge's proud cultural heritage.