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Uncovering the History of NRF’s Paint Collection

My internship project to catalog NRF’s property paint colors and formulas was born out of necessity. Over the years, the NRF crew had amassed an astounding depth of knowledge about the organization’s paints, but this knowledge had never been formally documented. The focus of my internship stemmed from the desire to capture this information before it was lost to time.  I was given the task of documenting 20 different exterior paints for more than 70 properties. 

This large undertaking began with the very important question, “Where do we begin?” Our answer was to start small by finding the colors at NRF’s two major paint suppliers, Humphrey’s Paint Center in Middletown and Adler’s Hardware in Providence. I was greeted at Humphrey’s Paint with a metal box of nearly 400 index cards, all of which held a piece of NRF’s paint color history. Our process began with photographing each index card, whether the information was for an exterior or interior color, and thus the archival and research process began. These index cards became the basis of the project and have answered many of the questions I set out to answer. The goal of accessing these index cards was to document the information on paint formulas and names and make them available for the paint crew to answer questions on a property’s exterior paint color through NRF’s in-house property management tool. 

When documenting the paints, I added categories to differentiate the three exterior paint colors for each property and the date the paint was last updated. I repeated this process with the paint information from NRF’s other paint supplier, Adler’s. Throughout this part of the project, I conducted several interviews with the paint crew to learn more about the history of the paint colors, their experiences working with Doris Duke, and the importance of their roles in the preservation of NRF’s historic properties. This project would have no foundation without the experiences of NRF’s paint crew. I learned so much about how the colors came to be, what colors were used throughout NRF’s existence, and the events and decisions that led to the colors we see at NRF properties today. 

In the next phase of the project, I am repeating the process to document the interior colors of the properties.  I am also interviewing retired members of the paint crew to learn more about their experiences with NRF’s paint colors. The paint collection can now be viewed on NRF’s website, as well as additional information on the colors used at each property.  If you see the crew working around town, ask them about the paint colors and explore the information we’ve uncovered so far. 

By Elizabeth Baza, Salve Regina University Intern 

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