More Than Just a Trade: Master Craftsmen of the Building Arts


Joseph Rein (Painter)

I basically inherited the business from my dad. I used to help him during the summer times back in about eighth grade. I was 13 or 14 years old. I worked during the summers. I went to college and didn't finish and started working full-time. Of course, before that I was basically broken in by sanding exterior shutters from old houses. That was starting when I was ten years old. Some of it wasn't very enjoyable, but a lot of it was. I've basically been doing it full-time since about 1972. My dad died about 16 years ago and right before that he said, "Well you might as well take over." So I did. I took over his customers and took it from there.

I learned from my dad and am somewhat self-taught on custom-mixing colors using my own bottles of tint. I don't necessarily have to take it to a paint store to get something adjusted, or to make up a color, for that matter. If a person were to pick something out of a color chip from a paint store, I welcome that. That's fine because that saves time, saves me sometimes pulling my hair out! But because no matter how good you are at mixing color, every color is different. You always have something to learn about it, certain nuances something gives you or whatever.

I like to use a lot of light. People walk into a room where I am painting and they remark at all the light I'm using. . . . You've got to use a lot of light. I've found it helps you do a better job because in normal lighting, if it looks good under strong light then it's going to look good under normal lighting.

I've used a whole lot of mostly oil-based paint up until maybe the past ten years. Sometimes I got strange looks, "Why are you still using that? It's so stinky, why are you using that?" It's only recently that I kind of stopped using oil-based flat for walls. On the other hand, I've got call-backs to customers that raved, "Gee, look at my house, it ain't been painted in 25 years and look how wonderful it is!" and what was used is basically oil-based paint. Now I'm sort of being forced into using latex paint because in some instances that's all that is available.

[The mildew is] basically because of the moisture and the climate. You could have four seasons in one week in New Orleans, and I don't think that's very good for the paint, because it makes it expand and the wood underneath it contracts and then there is the constant moisture. . . . The moisture comes up and it has to go somewhere, and so it either goes inside the house or it goes outside the house and when it goes either way, it tends to take the paint with it.

You can't do perfection on every job because a lot of times the surface is not there, it's not in really fine shape. Or the money is not there, they don't want to spend so much, so you strive for a very nice job and a very neat job and you work within those constraints. . . . A really nice paint job is self-evident, actually. You see pretty clean-cut lines where different colors met. If you rub your hands on the woodwork and don't feel like you're rubbing on sand paper, you don't feel a bunch of little particles embedded in the paint. Matter of fact, that is one of my little hobbies! It's not really a hobby, but I find myself doing it when I got places, public places, buildings, funeral parlors, etc. I kind of eyeball the paint job just to see what I can find. I think, "Look at that; they couldn't even do that right!"

Joseph Rein was interviewed as part of the New Orleans Building Arts Project. Laura Westbrook edited More than Just A Trade: Master Craftsmen of the Building Arts in 2004 for publication online.