Colour Theory - History of Whitewash

Colour Theory - History of Whitewash

Whitewash finish is often used in Indian home decor to provide a rustic charm. It celebrates the warmth of this elegant finish which 

lightens wood while allowing the natural grain to show through. What a simple technique to appreciate the beauty and story of a handmade decor. 

If you wondered about the history of whitewash, then read along as we try to demystify this. 

History of Whitewash

In May 1894, a plague swept Hong Kong - death was common and agonising. The Hong Kong Plague was part of the third plague pandemic after the notorious “Black Death”. It spread and claimed thousands of lives in mainland China before hitting Hong Kong.

It is during this time of fear and despair, KSLI (King’s Light Infantry (Shropshire Regiment)) soldiers helped disinfect the streets and houses in the infected areas by painting them with whitewash - a mixture of limestone, salt and water, amongst many of the actions they undertook to fight back the plague and gain control. They even got the name "Whitewash Brigade".

Later, the disinfectant became popular with dairy farmers to coat their barns and sheds without causing any harm to the animals as it was cheaper. This led to the phrase "too proud to whitewash too poor to paint". It covered the paint peels albeit not well.

Whitewash even found a mention in Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Tom's (the young protagonist of the novel ) Aunt Polly orders him to whitewash the fence as punishment for a prior mischief. Instead he tricks other children into doing the job for him.

"Tom appeared on the sidewalk with a bucket of whitewash and a long-handled brush. He surveyed the fence, and all gladness left him and a deep melancholy settled down upon his spirit. Thirty yards of board fence nine feet high. Life to him seemed hollow, and existence but a burden. Sighing, he dipped his brush and passed it along the topmost plank; repeated the operation; did it again; compared the insignificant whitewashed streak with the far-reaching continent of unwhitewashed fence, and sat down on a tree-box discouraged. "

There are other interesting uses of whitewash, including applying a coat to trees to prevent sun scalding.

Over time the colour influenced the choice of doctor coats and became a visual symbol of the medical profession.

Whitewash Indian Home Decor

Our eco-friendly products are handmade at home by marginalised people who would otherwise struggle to join the workforce. We follow all the 10 Fair trade principles to provide fair wages, welfare, educational opportunities and safe working conditions to the artisans.

Hand-Carved 3 Drawer Jewellery Chest - Whitewash, Brass Knobs



Hamsa Tealight Candle Wood Holder - Whitewashed finish, 18.5 cm, Handcrafted



Mandala Smartphone Collapsible Dock Stand - Whitewashed, 21 cm





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