Enoch Pratt Free Library

Baltimore, MD

The iconic main branch of Baltimore’s public library system, opened in 1933, with a grand chamber and artwork. In the Spring of 2016, ground was broken on a $115 million restoration of the historic Central Library.

In September and October of 2016 and in March of 2017, EverGreene Architectural Arts completed an investigation of decorative finishes located in the Team Learning and Leadership Room (Room 206) at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Maryland. The investigation included exposing underlying decorative finishes, taking paint samples for off-site microscopic analysis, and matching colors in-situ.

Using historic images of the room, EverGreene conservators were able to complete exposure windows at areas with underlying historic decorative paint. While it was confirmed large areas of the original ceiling were lost at the recessed light locations, the exposure windows were able to provide EverGreene with a good understanding of the original design, as well as a cohesive color palette. Where paint exposures were not feasible, EverGreene manually retrieved samples, which were then analyzed under microscope to determine colors and finishes.

Specifically, EverGreene utilized exposures and historical research which identified a ceiling design consisting of a stenciled geometric and natural border embellished with hand-painted details. Decoration and imagery included flowers, leaves, ribbons, putti, urns and sphinx/harpies. The border was broken by four large octagonal cartouches at the corners, a different style octagonal cartouche in the center of the east-west borders, and eight oval cartouches between the octagons. All cartouches originally had painted canvas inserts, however by the time of the investigation all canvas inserts had been removed. Nevertheless, the areas of the border and cartouches surrounds that survived under the overpaint displayed a palette of peaches, greens, creams and grays, accented by vibrant reds, pinks blues, greens and yellows.

The building remains open to the public. The design of the building retains one of Enoch Pratt’s steadfast requirements: that there be no stairs leading into the main entrance. This seemingly odd requirement, and one that certainly went against the grain of architectural design for grand civic institutions at the time, was based Pratt’s philosophy that the library should be open to all people.

The construction project will be completed in phases and the library will celebrate it’s grand reopening in September 2019.