Monday, September 28, 2015

35/15: Governor's Palace Wallpaper

What is 35/15? Read the Introduction first.

   So I said I would talk more about the Chinese wallpaper in the Palace's Supper Room.

   First of all, you need to look at this room in color, in gorgeous color, look at that! If you want to see moving images of this room, it appears in the "Williamsburg Restored" Colonial Williamsburg Archive Collection DVD.

   I was floored when I saw how this room looked in 1935. I had never known it looked like that. It was over-the-top, in-your-face, and amazing. I fell in love it. But why was it gone?

   In 1981, the Palace was transformed from Colonial Revival period rooms to an authentic portrayal of the Governor's home. At that time, they came to the conclusion that this type of wallpaper would not have been here. Its inclusion in the Palace was more a push from its donor, R.T.H. Halsey of the Metropolitan Museum, as well as a 'might-have-been' mentality. Later research revealed wallpaper like this was rarely used in 18th century American homes. When it was, it was in more private rooms of the house. So it was taken down, stabilized, then stored in the Department of Collections.

   I had to see it. I scheduled an appointment with Kate Teiken of Collections to go see it. I was greeted with a small sample size of it. Rough guesstimation, it was about 3'x6'. A 1'x5' piece of the Palace's Study wallpaper hung above it. This is all the Foundation still has. The rest was deassessioned, auctioned off, deemed unnecessary. The piece only remains more as a record of the ownership. I had built up this wallpaper in my head, so I was a little let down by the reality.

   The wallpaper is so detailed. The piece the Foundation has is from a higher section of the flowering tree. All of the birds, butterflies, and other animals are fully-colored. The branches are white with a heavy shadow. The tree's leaves and flowers are white with an outline of black, the leaves' lines thinner than the flowers. Everything looks hand painted. The light blue of the background looks a bit dingy with age.

   It was sad, yet still beautiful. Being only one small piece, it lost its wow factor. There are no plans to ever show this piece off. "Williamsburg Restored," states the wallpaper is 18th century. Kate said it was actually not, which was part of the reason why it was deassessioned.

   As a bonus, I also was able to see the Upper Middle Room's gilded leather wallpaper. I had not looked into it as much. It was leather on a wall, big deal. Oh, I was completely wrong. It is beautiful. Stamped with a flower pattern, covered in gold and gray paint. It is a treasure. The other side is a different story. Here you can see the pains it took to remove it from the wall. It looks torn up and in terrible condition. It really was time to take it down. Since it is 18th century, all the pieces are still kept in the Colonial Williamsburg Collections.

   I still wonder about the Supper Room wallpaper, where it ended up. Since it was auctioned off, its buyer is a mystery. If anyone knows where it is, I would love to know the rest of its story. (2017 Update: I found out a little more of this wallpaper's story. Read about it in 35/15: Governor's Palace Wallpaper II)

A special thank you goes to Kate Teiken for taking me through. It truly was an absolute BLAST! I was nerding out the whole time I was there. Thanks for making my day!

Sources Used:
Architectural Report on the Palace Refurnishing Project

View the whole 35/15 Project:
Part 1 - College of William and Mary 
Part 2 - Merchants Square
Part 3 - Buildings that Move
Part 4 - Market Square
Part 5 - Ludwell-Paradise
Part 6 - Queen Street to Botetourt Street
Part 7 - Raleigh Tavern
Part 8 - Paints
Part 9 - Botetourt Street to the Capitol Area
Part 10 - Capitol
Part 11 - No Longer Here
Part 12 - Francis and Nicholson Streets
Part 13 - Garden Edition
Part 14 - The Governor's Palace Gardens
Part 15 - Inside the Governor's Palace

Bonus 35/15 Posts:
35/15: A Dessert Order
35/15: Life in Williamsburg in 1935
35/15: Governor's Palace Wallpaper (You are currently viewing this one)
35/15: Governor's Palace Wallpaper II

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