Floorcloths being recreated for Melrose

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 3, 2008

NATCHEZ — Melrose is getting a Christmas present this year.

Almost 100 feet of floorcloths are being recreated for four different areas in Melrose.

Natchez National Historical Park Curator Cheryl Munyer said 10 years ago, during some routine work, an original piece of floorcloth was found in the attic.

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“It’s like finding buried treasure,” she said.

And now, the 2-foot by 3-foot piece is in the hands of Canvasworks Floorcloths owner Lisa Mair.

The recreation job was contracted out to her through the National Park Service, and in September, she began the lengthy process.

“It’s an extremely long process because it’s such a big project,” Mair said. “The process is very tedious, there are a lot of steps and to do each step on 100 feet takes awhile.

“I feel like a real old-fashioned craftsperson.”

To match the same patterns on the canvas-like material, Mair said it requires “lots and lots of coats of paint.

“I sort of feel like a linoleum producer right now, except it’s just me,” she said.

Mair has been recreating floorcloths for 15 years, but she said her experience with the Melrose floorcloths has been unique.

“It opened up a whole new world for me,” she said. “I didn’t realize they used floorcloths in plantations as extensively as they did.”

Natchez NHP Superintendent Kathleen Jenkins said the floorcloths were used to protect the floorboards.

“The flooring at Melrose is the original cypress that was cut in the Louisiana swamps,” she said.

With cypress being a softer wood and the floorboards being 150 years old, Jenkins said there has been some general wear and tear.

“It was typically not intended to be exposed to everyday foot traffic,” she said.

So now the floorcloth protection will be returned, but aside from its functional use, Munyer said having the floorcloths replaced adds more authenticity.

“It helps us more accurately interpret life in the antebellum South because we’ll have a more complete picture of what the home looked like,” she said.

The floorcloths are slated to be installed beginning Dec. 16, but Munyer said she’s already gotten a taste of what the finished project will look like.

“(Mair) came down to see the site a few months ago and she brought a sample of the floorcloths she’s making, and it looks great. We were able to hold it up to the original, and it looks so close,” Munyer said.

The project is being funded by an internal grant, and the overall cost is just under $20,000, Jenkins said.

The application for the grant began several years ago, and the funding just came through last year, she said.

Mair’s progress on the floorcloths can be followed on her Web site at http://canvasworksfloorcloths.com/wordpress/?cat=79.