Backstory: Cry over a hue
The restoration of Confederate Gen. T.R.R. Cobb's house - in bright pink - has many in the South seeing red.
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"We have found some outlandish, wonderful colors," says Frank White, a director of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation in Atlanta.Skip to next paragraph
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Still, pink, at least in its modern connotation, is not what most people would associate with Cobb. Strict as a schoolmarm, Cobb was in many ways the South's answer to Ben Franklin - a man of many talents, a prolific writer, and the author of Cobb's Code, a Calvinistic treatise on how to live properly. When the war came, Cobb rallied 5,000 Georgians and headed north. Despite his lack of military training, CSA Gen. James Longstreet called Cobb "one of our most promising officers and statesmen" after the Battle of Fredericksburg.
"It is important to remember who Cobb really was: He was a dynamic man who, when he could no longer defend a slave society with his pen, laid it down for the sword," says Mr. Dandolos, a painter-turned-history buff who has had to fend off criticism from friends for even working on the Cobb House. Dandolos believes history needs to be confronted, no matter how sympathetic or unsympathetic the character.
The $3 million restoration has experienced its share of heartbreak. After a long period of neglect, the Cobb mansion lost its spot on the National Register of Historic Places. As it sat, the politics of the South changed, too. In the 1990s, Confederate flags were taken down from the top of state buildings. The idea of restoring the Cobb house, another reminder of the controversial past, brought resignations from trustee boards and splits among heritage groups.
Yet Mr. Brown, the man overseeing the project, held his ground. At one point, frustrated by all the politics, he told friends he'd gladly paint it "pink with purple polka dots" if that's what paint analysis revealed, even if it enraged his critics. A few weeks later, Frank Welsh, the color conservator on the project, came back with a verdict on the original hue of the house that would fulfill half of that prophecy. "It shakes you up, makes you look at things in a different way, but people have still given [Brown] a lot of gas for painting it pink," says Gene Surber, the project architect who also did the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta.
For some, the paint job poses a question more intriguing than its historical correctness. "The real mystery is: Why did this nasty, mean, Confederate general paint his house pink?" says Jill Morton, author of "Color Voodoo," about how colors affect human psychology.
Since pink can be a calming color, perhaps it was designed to soothe the nerves of an overworked secessionist, speculates Ms. Morton. And the choice may not have been that unusual anyway. Pink, after all, hasn't always been considered feminine. As late as 1921, the Women's Institute for Domestic Sciences endorsed pink for boys as well as girls. Cobb could have been shaped as well by European influences, which were sweeping through fashionable Charleston at the time.
Still, if Cobb wanted to project power and authority, as is indicated by his addition of huge octagonal wings that turned a humble farm house into a muscular mansion, "pink is about the least authoritative color there is," Morton says.
Brown, for one, isn't having any of the Sherwin-Williams psychoanalysis. "This could have been Marion's deal," he says, referring to Cobb's wife. "Drawing inference from the color and trying to project something from that onto Cobb's sensibilities is risky." Still, he concedes, "it is kind of fun."