During the Capitol’s restoration, efforts were undertaken to recreate the original parget plasterwork. This effort was stifled by the lack of an accurate example to use as a guide. Since original photographs were black and white, artisans were unsure of the techniques and color palette used by the original artists.
Parget (pronounced pär’jĭt) is the colorful plaster decoration that can be seen in the ceiling and frieze of the Archive Exhibit room on the first floor of the Capitol Museum. The unique plaster designs were once common throughout the entire building. Through the years, efforts to modernize the Capitol resulted in the delicate plasterwork being painted over or sometimes removed entirely.
Fortunately, during the restoration project, workers found a full-color segment of an original California poppy design hidden behind a heating duct. This revelation gave artisans clues on how to re-create this lost art form.
Trial and error eventually led to the successful technique that artisans used to restore the intricate design work. The artists began with a simple perforated drawing made from the discovered frieze. Then they carefully applied charcoal powder to the perforations to transfer the drawing to the ceiling. Next, they used pastry tubes and other tools to apply a plaster mixture directly onto the transferred drawing, much like a baker decorating a cake. Once the parget work had dried, artisans painted it using the original colors.
The original tile laid in the Capitol's rotunda is a geometric mosaic of earth-toned shapes, creating a "marquetry" effect similar to the inlaid woodwork in Renaissance Revival furniture. Maw & Company manufactured the original tile in Shropshire, England.
An article dated November 28 1873, in the Sacramento Daily Union, reported, "...The advantages claimed for these tiles are that they are far more beautiful and from twenty to fifty percent cheaper than marble; so durable that it is said they are ultimately cheaper than a common wood flooring, having in England stood fifty years' constant wear without any perceptible difference to their appearance..."
Unfortunately, the tile did not withstand the 100 years' worth of wear and tear on the rotunda floor. During the restoration, the original tile was removed and replaced with reproductions made from standard United States quarry tile.
Restoration artisans painstakingly recreated the intricate geometric designs with the updated tiles in the rotunda and in nearby halls and stairwells. The original tile that they were able to salvage can now be found on the grand staircase landing on the second floor.