Mural & Stencil Ideas for Early Homes

Stenciled designs and scenic murals were popular from around 1790 to 1850.

Plain walls with a stenciled frieze at the ceiling, or a stencil pattern bordering doors and windows, were fashionable treatments around 1800. The more common all-over stencil designs date to the 1820s and ’30s.

New England itinerant artist Rufus Porter rarely painted murals that portrayed an identifiable scene. In this example, a stenciled frieze pattern seems to grow out of the sponge-painted trees overlaid on a rolling landscape. 

Brian Vanden Brink

At about the same time, itinerant paint-decorator Rufus Porter published instructions on how to paint rooms with mural scenes of buildings and ships in land- and seascapes, offering an alternative to popular (and expensive) French scenic wallpapers. Stenciling and mural painting became American folk-art forms.

Paint-decorated walls remained popular through the 1840s. In the decades that followed, however, the designs and techniques were dismissed as “primitive,” until antiquarians celebrated them during the 1920s Colonial Revival.


Further Reading

In American Wall Stenciling, 1790-1840 (University Press, 2003), author Ann Eckert Brown shares stencils found in New England, the South, and the Midwest as she describes rural folk-art and classically inspired urban stencil traditions. Ann is an experienced researcher, educator, and paint artist; her comprehensive book includes 250 illustrations, a vocabulary of paint decoration, information on early paints, and a who’s-who of artisans. Order a copy here.

Find resources for this story here.


By Patricia Poore

Patricia Poore is Editor-in-chief of Old-House Journal and Arts & Crafts Homes, as well as editorial director at Active Interest Media’s Home Group, overseeing New Old House, Traditional Building, and special-interest publications. 

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