SHIRLEY -- In the 1950s, Shirley Lawton Houde taught furniture stenciling to soldiers on Fort Devens.

Her stencils and samples of her work are now on display at the Shirley Historical Society Museum.

Shirley was born in 1897 to a family that appreciated and bought and sold antiques. While the family was refinishing antique chairs, Shirley taught herself how to copy the old designs and re-paint them on freshly varnished wood.

She began collecting antique stencil designs and creating new designs from modern inspirations. She used a velvet "pounce" to apply metallic powder to freshly varnished furniture. Shirley used oil paint to decorate trays and other household furnishings.

Folks would buy an old chair or tray and bring it to Shirley to be re-stenciled. The museum has more than 500 designs and thousands of stencils in the collection.

Included in the museum display is a brief history of stenciling from cave drawings to the Egyptians to early American pottery and stenciled walls. Some of Shirley's original powders, pounces and oil paints are on display.

In one part of the exhibit are objects that show her sequence of work from the original sketch, to the cut stencil, to the painted sample.

In another part of the room are some modern stencil samples that visitors can try out using milk paint donated by the Old-fashioned Milk Paint Company of Groton. Visitors can take home a color pamphlet and a sample of this early American paint.


Other stenciled items on display include small metal containers made and stenciled by Robert U. Holden. There is a quilt with a stencil design in the center. There is a commode door, three chairs and two rocking chairs that have stenciled designs. The walls of the museum meeting room actually have weeping willows stenciled on them as yet another example of this art form.

The Shirley Historical Society Museum is located at 182 Center Road and is open Mondays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. for visitors, volunteers and researchers, plus other times by appointment.

Go the Shirley Historical Society Facebook page for photos of the display. Phone 978-425-9328 or email for information.