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What is a Floor Cloth Painter?

Do you have the new PRENTICE eBook?
What is a Floor Cloth Painter?
By Linus Joseph Dewald Jr., Editor
Winter 2003 and Revised 7 Feb 2004

Jacki, in Western Australia had written that she had tracked down her George Clark in Earls Colne, Essex, England, where a number of our Prentices have their roots. George married Maria Harvey whose father was shown as an "Oil Cloth Painter". Note that her email caption said "Floor Cloth Painter."

The functions and techniques of that occupation were not immediately apparent to me; I thought perhaps it might refer to an interior house painter who placed drop cloths over the floor and furniture to catch paint splatters from painting the walls and ceilings. Wrong.

Another emailer, Kate Haushalter, of Toronto, Canada supplied the correct answer, one which would have been common knowledge to earlier generations of our Prentice ancestors.

Floor Cloths were an early form of floor carpeting and apparently is still used in some areas today. A "Floor Cloth Painter" and "Oil Cloth Painter" were one and the same. Oil paint was the main form of paint so the terms were quite inter-changeable, unlike today when many floor cloths are done in latex or acylic paint.

Floor cloths were probably first made by maritime wives who used the heavy-duty cloth from ruined sails, then painted and decorated it for flooring. It was very durable. The technique was adapted and other heavy canvas was also used to make decorated floor coverings and Floor Cloths. These were used in many homes of all economic laevels and were popularized along with faux finishes.

The website at Allens Artist Canvas sets out the following brief history of floor cloth:

    The use of floor cloths as painted decorative floor coverings began in early eighteenth-century Britain. Also known as oylcloth, painted carpet, common carpet, or summer floor mats, floor cloths were initially used by the wealthy to decorate entryways, hallways and dining rooms. Some were also used under dining tables to protect more expensive carpets from spills. They began to be used in America as early as the Revolutionary War. Initially most were imported from England, but soon there were domestic makers as well and the art form remained popular until around 1860 with the advent of linoleum. There was a revival in the 1950's through the popularization of authentic American crafts and the restoration of vintage homes.
The foregoing website contains a listing of books on the subject that are in print and available for purchase.

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