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Paint Between the Timelines
Architectural coatings date back way back tens of thousands of years to cave images in Spain and France and hieroglyphs in Egyptian tombs. Some research claims humans have been painting about six times longer than they've used written language.
Technically, paint is pigment suspended in a liquid carrier or thinner and a binding agent. When the thinner evaporates, the binder and pigment remain as a solid film. Prehistoric pigments came from earth, minerals, plants or burned wood. Animal fat, blood or egg whites carried the color. Despite upgrades to semiprecious stone colorants, Renaissance murals followed the same concept.
By the 18th century, however, chemistry transformed painting from craft into business. Since America's first paint mill in Boston in 1700, ready-mixed paints were available in paste form. After about 1750, house exteriors were covered with oil-based paint linseed oil, white lead and pigment while whitewash, a mixture of lime and water, was an inexpensive alternative for outbuildings.
By the 1880s, paint came in tins. Because heavy paint was costly to ship, regional manufacturers dominated the industry through the early 1900s. However, artisans concocted custom paints until World War II, primarily for estates where traditional values survived.
Tragically, years of painting often caused painter's colic, or lead poisoning. The culprit? White lead paint, prepared through the Dutch process. Lead sheets soaked in acid until they corroded. Then painters ground the metal and mixed the pigment with linseed oil. Paint manufacturers started removing lead before World War II, and industry standards took effect in the 1950s. The Consumer Product Safety Commission banned lead from household paints in 1978.
Although today's paints omit lead, some contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). When oil paint's solvents evaporate, they emit fumes and VOCs, which threaten air quality in tight homes. Manufacturers now offer low- and no-VOC paints, as well as formulas low in fungicides (against mildew) and biocides (preservatives). Another nontoxic alternative is Colonial-style milk paint made from dried milk protein.
Other options make paint more durable. Acrylic paints provide the scrubbability of oil or alkyd gloss paint without the odor, messy cleanup or overnight drying time. One type of acrylic, ceramic paints contain tiny ceramic microspheres that, makers claim, create a smooth, tough film that sheds dirt and stains.
Some contemporary manufacturers were paint pioneers:
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