The New York Times - March 25th 1993
Chocolate Milk? No, it's milk paint.
By Terry Trucco
The ancient cave painters used a form of it. Samples of it were found in King Tutankhamen's tomb. And until World War II, many Americans still painted houses and furniture with it. But these days, milk paint, a durable, long-lasting paint made from milk protein, clay, earth pigments and lime, is almost a rarity. It is not sold at most hardware stores, and although it qualifies as a paint with no toxic ingredients or fumes, milk paint is still used mainly by decorators, furniture restorers and history buffs.
"Sherwin Williams isn't worried about me." said Charles E. Thibeau, owner and founder of the Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company, a 19 year old concern in Groton, Mass.
Yet while milk paint will never replace latex, some paint experts expect its appeal to grow in the 1990's, for environmental as well as aesthetic reasons. "It's a really healthy, user friendly material," said Mathew J. Mosca, a paint analyst in Baltimore.
Milk paint's distinctive finish, which is flat and coarse, lends an authentic look to antique furniture, historic houses and stenciled floors. Mr. Thibeau's 16 muted colors, including barn red, bayberry, mustard and pumpkin, are based on historical hues, made from earth pigments like ocher, umber and iron oxide. For pastels he suggests adding white. "You can create a beautiful, translucent finish by waxing milk paint," Mr. Mosca said.
Mr. Thibeau, a reproduction furniture maker, began experimenting with old formulas in the early 1970's when he could not find milk paint in stores. It took him six months to devise a successful recipe based on powdered milk protein, casein. The milk protein makes pigments stick to a porous surface, like wood. Lime is added so the concoction will mix with water. Since lime bleaches most pigments, stable earth colors are used.
Mr. Thibeau's paint is sold as a powder, sealed in plastic pouches. Just add water and stir. "It's like making chocolate milk," he said.
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