If you travel to the American South, you will most likely find yourself coming across a well-known feature amongst the traditional houses pushed back near the sidewalks. You may happen to notice that most of the owners have painted an aspect of their house whether it be the door, porch, ceilings, or shutters a specific shade of blue. Once asked, you would be told that it is referred to as “haint blue.” However, the history behind the color is rather horrifying than you initially would have thought.
Usually, people don’t put much thought into the color of these fittings such as their porch ceilings, shutters, or doors. However, in some aspects, this is a family tradition here. Strategic design intelligence director Ellen O’Neill from paint producer Benjamin Moore discussed the significance behind the paint color when she talked to Today in 2017.
O’Neill went on to say, “No one would think twice about painting their porch blue, because their grandmother’s and their parents’ [porches] were blue. It’s permeated into porch design.” Lori Sawaya is a color design expert who also agreed and had said, “Porch ceilings have always been blue in the South.”
Where and when did the porch-painting tradition originate? The tradition is rooted in everyday issues as well as a common and shameful history. Sherwin-Williams stated that it most likely started with, who was referred to back then as, the Victorians.
The theory discusses how the Victorians from the late 19th century decorated their properties with paints that embodied the natural world- bright colors or earthy colors. Colors such as terracotta or ochre may have been painted on an average Victorian’s home. It was done to bring a sense and feeling of the outdoors.
In the South, they did this for the exact same reason. The Victorians picked blue as it reminded them of bright blue and crystal-like skies even on a cloudy day. O’Neill did not namecheck the Victorians exactly, but she appears to be in agreement with the overall idea.
Representing A Feeling
O’Neill said to Today, “A blue sky is an optimistic thing to look at. It reminds us of daybreak; it wards off gloomy weather and delays nightfall. Painting a ceiling blue brings in nature and the sky.” However, the reminder of a beautiful day and nice weather is not the only reason one is inclined to paint a feature blue.
It is believed and proven in some instances that blue tones usually have a relaxing effect on individuals. If so, it is the perfect color to feature on a porch. A porch is intended to have time outside relaxing, letting go, and unwinding so it would make sense to create this atmosphere on your stoop.
Extension Of Your Surroundings
Blue is as previously mentioned associated with the sky, thus, it works as an extension of one’s surroundings. “Light blues especially lighten and brighten space and propagate any light that you do get, because of the basic nature of color,” explained Lori Sawaya.
An additional and very practical reason for people choosing to paint their porch ceiling blue is due to the belief that blue paint keeps insects away during the summer and spring months of the year. This is, however, a myth and not necessarily proven. O’Neill said to Today, “If an insect perceives that a ceiling is really the sky, it instinctively wouldn’t nest there.”
O’Neill went on to say, “It depends how deep you want to go into the brain of an insect… but it’s not unlike how ladybugs will land on a white house. It’s a visual trick.” Many homeowners believe the myth is true and in turn, have turned to the blue ceiling for security. However, it is very possible that this is not accurate, maybe insects have changed over the years?
Previously, the blue paint used on ceilings was most commonly “milk paint” with lye mixed into the combination. WHich in turn reveals, that the lye was what was actually keeping the bugs at bay and out the way. Milk paints were easily deteriorating and as time progressed the extra layers of paint caused a build-up of lye and boosted the bug-proofing system at hand.
Today Paint Is Different
Today paint is barely made with lye. Paints such as Sherwin-Williams ones are mixed with oil or water. Today, lye is seen as a chemical paint remover rather than a binder. This bring s us to the conclusion that the blue paints miraculous powers are somewhat just an old legend today.
No One Was Feeling Blue
People started painting their porches for a reason, there must have been more to madness, right? Was it because of one of the already mentioned reasons, or was there more to the story…A scarier reason is on the cards one that is rather sobering. However, it could also have been due to the fact that there is a shade of blue to fit any setting and any room!
O’Neill discussed how the color blue is rather versatile, it pairs well “regardless of the rest of the paint colors” on one’s home. She went on to explain, “It looks like, ‘Oh, of course, that’s the sky.’” The matter was agreed upon by interior designer Zoe Kyriacos, as she argued to Sherwin-Williams that there is in fact extra to the reasoning.
You don’t want [a blue ceiling] to look like an afterthought or like it came out of nowhere. You want to make it look like it was part of the packages,” said Kyriacos. She had even more advice on exactly how to pick the perfect color combination for your home.
All About Style
Kyriacos recommends utilizing a paper blue for homes with an older flair and style. However, if your home is more modern in design a blue with some sass and attitude may be more suited. The designer suggested that if you are willing to change it up and be a bit more daring, blue’s with tints work wonders.
Back To Blue
The shade we are most drawn to is haint blue. This blue is calming, similar to turquoise blue, and is evidently favored by southerners- especially in South Carolina. The name of the shade should provide a clue of its mysterious and suspiciously mythical heritage. This origin will also open up a window unto the shameful and horrific components of the history behind haint blue.
Let’s begin with the reference behind the word haint- it refers to a spirit or ghost-like creature in southern folklore. As suspected and most commonly known, these are not friendly ghosts and presences. The legends suggest that against, also known as “boo hags” were unpleasant presences that had somehow set themselves apart and free from their human host bodies.
These suspicious spirits would roam around the state after nightfall aiming to murder or maim anyone they came into contact with. Well, if one believed these stories- which the Gullah people of the South supposedly did- it can be understood that one would want to take any kind of necessary precautions against these evil haints.
Thus, haint blue was used with the intention of confusing these spirits and keeping people safe from any kind of harm. And how exactly would it do this? Well, It is a combination of the reasons previously discussed, specifically that blue is a symbol and resemblance of water and the sky.
The shade of blue was a potent protector as boo hags were believed to be unable to travel through water. On top of that, the boo hags would not go near the sky as their prey was on ground level. By painting the cleanings, shutters as well as glass bottles in haint blue- the residents and community at large thought they were protected.
More And More
Whilst the folk tales may not in actual fact be the case, there is still history behind the blue and it is rather shocking. The history, on the other hand, is definitely real. The history of haint blue does not have anything to do with supernatural creatures or mythical beliefs but attacks the ideal of a tough to swallow hardship. This all began with a 16-year old girl who went by the name Eliza Lucas and the luscious indigo plant.
Indigo dye is one of the main components in blue paint. This coloring used to originate from the actual plant back in the day. This was long before synthetic indigo could be produced for the masses. In the 18th century, the dye from these herbs was hard to get your hands on. Indigo trees and bushes were a symbol of wealth.
Young Lucas started some sort of a revolution and changed history when she extracted indigo bag in 1742. This was a major development in South Carolinian agriculture. This began the start of farming the dye in the United States, a short five years post this discovery, a shipment of the cherished material made its way across the Atlantic.
The American Revolution was still 20 years away and the United States at that point was still a British colony. Indigo was extremely desired in Europe, this export was growing vastly. The business peaked when over 1.2 million pounds of indigo left the US in just one year.
Demand For Indigo
The history of indigo is thus rife, complex, and intertwined with the slave trade. Demand was on the rise and the need for slave labor did too. It caused an influx of slavery in South Carolina. It is reportedly known that half of all slaves that landed in America ended up in the state of South Carolina.
It was not only the African slaves that tough times ahead…The demand for indigo continued to strengthen and plantations began to run out of land. This led to plantation owners taking land from indigenous tribes who lived off of neighboring land.
The growing number of valves were working on forever growing territories of land. These slaves had already endured terrible conditions and torture. The slaves were shipped into the country under rife conditions- there was terrible disease and horrible abuse. Additionally, a fifth of these slaves in the 18th century did not survive the trip.
Life In The South
The lives lived on these plantations was certainly not any better. Louise Miller Cohen established the Hilton Head Island Gullah Museum. She said, “If [reparations were] attached to indigo, they would do everything possible to keep the word from ever being mentioned.” However, the boom of indigo was about to come to a halt.
The American Revolutionary War occurred between 1775 and 1783. Once the conflict ended, the Thirteen Colonies managed to obtain independence and officially be referred to as the United States of America. The indigo trade halted a few years post the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Beliefs Of The African People
The African slaves that first worked and cultivated the indigo were the first of the Gullah people. They believed in boo rags and haints, it was them that introduced the color blue to be of such popularity in South Carolina. It is them that take the initiative of reclaiming its importance and message.
Julie Dash’s acclaimed movie Daughters of the Dust encompasses a strong indigo presence throughout which represents the painful pasts of the characters and the path that leads them to confront those demons. The photograph is one of the first from an African-American woman that was distributed throughout the country.
Cohen and Hodges discussed how they used the dye to help the locals connect with their past. Workshops were organized by them as well as other events revolving around the usage of indigo. “I’m interested in learning all I can about the crops that caused my people [the] loss of their freedom,” said Cohen.
The ideal of haint blue paint and symbolism can be seen all over South Carolina and is somewhat culture. However, it seems as though the history and full reasoning is not well known, and should be. For the Gullah people and their ancestors, it is something that will never be forgotten and the importance will forever live within.
All Around You
It can be noticed that there are hidden meanings flurrying through the state. Whilst searching for haint blue keep an eye out for lilac. A lilac bush outside a house has another particularly strong message. The symbolism is riddled throughout the south.
The lilac bush is one of nature’s fiercest flora, it survives almost all types of tough weather. When lilac reaches bloom it is a strong symbol that spring is around the corner. The fragrant flowers roots flow extremely thoroughly. It has a multitude of meaning that it has been given by a variety of cultures. The reasoning behind it is another sobering one…
Lilacs have become increasingly popular in recent years. They bloom in various different colors in including purple, pink, white, and blue. They are a flower that is incredibly soothing to the eye and the pastel-like colors add a sense of calm and softness to any yard. They also grow more than 10-feet tall.
The lilac’s botanical moniker is syringa vulgaris which makes it a sibling to the olive tree. Amongst this group are 20 more strong types of plants such as privates and jasmines. Within these types are hundreds of additional species. The lilac itself boasts over 1,000 species.
Not all of these variations are similar as some grow in a bush formation, some grow in trees and some bloom at unusual times within the year. These multiple variants and colors are all of different origins and acclimatized to different conditions. The Souvenir de Louis Spaeth blooms most beautifully in pink and the Japanese variant can grow to an astounding 30 feet.
Lilacs have been becoming increasingly popular for a multitude of reasons. Some associate the fragrance with childhood memories. When I breathe in their sweet perfume, I am a little girl in my mother’s garden, holding as many stems of purple flower clusters that my hands can manage,” wrote a blogger.
There are plenty more reasons as to why the scent is so loved and cherished. Just walk down the soap aisle at any grocery store and you will see just how many options actually include lilac, and it does smell magnificent. The aroma is utilized in almost all products that include a fragrance of some sort.
A Good Choice
For aspiring and new gardeners lilacs are the perfect plant. They are tough but they are easily grown. Lilacs simply need daily sunlight, top-notch soil, and time to rest in the colder months of the yar. They do not cope as well in very hot weather but will survive extremely cold climates.
If you are a newcomer and this is your first time planting lilacs don’t feel down when they do not flower instantly. Patience is key. As it could be a few years between planting and the first bloom, it is rather about caring for the flowers.
There is no need to be a horticulturist or a professional to grow this plant. However, there are three seasonal rules that will only help! In winter, ensure you feed them with fertilizer if they are looking a bit funded. In spring, they need some fresh compost. In summer, They simply need a weekly watering specifically when dry weather is on the rise.