Monday, June 11, 2007

What a Difference a Dye Makes

Since 1999, wallpaper historians and specialist printers Chris Ohrstrom and Steve Larson have been reproducing some of the most important papers designed between 1740 and 1870. Using centuries-old techniques, Adelphi Paper Hangings block-prints patterns in their original colorways, as well as colors suited to today’s palette, which dramatically change the overall effect of the original design.

Adelphi is the sole commercial production facility for block printing historic wallpapers in the United States. In addition to American, French and English patterns from its own archive, they offer patterns licensed from the collections at the Smithsonian Institution, Colonial Williamsburg, Old Sturbridge Village, the New York State Historical Association, the Musée du Papier Peint (Rixheim, France), and many other historic institutions and private collections. The real sell? The studio cat called Zuber.

Everard Medallion, English circa 1760, in its original blue and a contemporary taupe:

The source for this pattern is a wallpaper fragment discovered beneath a 19th century cornice in the Thomas Everard House in the historic 18th century town of Williamsburg, Virginia. The diamond shaped design is formed by four slender scrolled leaves surrounding a foliate medallion. The scrolling and symmetry of the leaves are typical of the rococo period. This pattern utilizes a simply color scheme and a clever printing technique known as "slip-printing". Unlike most multicolored papers, which require a separate carved block for each color, this pattern creates a shadow effect by using only one. First the block prints the black and then, shifting registration slightly, it is used to print the white foreground image.

Webb House Damask, American circa 1780, in its original green, and in a mod black-and-white:

A flocked version of this flowering vine with diaper pattern is found in a bedroom of the 1752 Webb House in Wethersfield, Connecticut. It is supposed to have been hung in 1781 in preparation for a visit from George Washington, although that date is perhaps late for this pattern. The use of such a very large pattern in a small bedroom with low ceiling is surprising in the original setting, although the effect is impressive. Adelphi's version of this very fine pattern reproduces the original pattern and scale, but without flocking

Pineapples, American circa 1845, in its original blue-peach, and in an acidic yellow-green:

This exuberant paper was discovered covering a wooden bandbox made by Hannah Davis, who worked in Jaffrey, New Hampshire between 1825 and 1855. Well known for her carefully made hat and bandboxes, Davis is also credited with designing a machine to cut thin sheets of wood for the sides of her boxes. The Pinapples pattern probably dates from the late 1830s to the mid-1840s. It relates closely to a number of patterns found in upstate New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire, including Adelphi's Ada Harris and Middlefield Sprig patterns, all of which have a similar spray of leaves on stems in the background and pointed lozenge shapes. Pineapples was also printed with a bright green varnish, which was also very popular in the 1840s.

Wheatlands Volute, American circa 1850's, in its original grey-gold, and in a Wearstleresque rose and brown:

The "Wheatland" house was built in 1828 by William Jenkins, a wealthy Lancaster, Pennsylvania banker. In 1848, James Buchanan (then Secretary of State) bought the house and 22-acre estate. From there, in 1856, he conducted his "front porch" campaign for the Presidency. Wheatland became its symbol, and in many areas Buchanan supporters formed "Wheatland Clubs" to promote his election. Successful in his bid, he served one term (1857-61) in the White House and then returned to his estate to pass his remaining years. He died there in 1868. The house had several subsequent owners before being acquired in the 1930s by the Junior League of Lancaster, which later organized the James Buchanan Foundation for the Preservation of Wheatland, the present owner. The room in which Adelphi's Wheatlands Volute is now hung is know from a published engraving of a political gathering to have contained wallpaper in Buchanan's time While the pattern cannot be identified from the etching, its curving motifs suggest that it was likely a volute pattern. In restoring the room, the Foundation selected this related, period sample in the Smithsonian's collection, which Adelphi reproduced in the original gold and gray on crème colorway.

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