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Out of the Rat’s Nest and into the Bedchamber

The Elise H. Wright Curator of the General Collection David Voelkel provides an update on the new wallpaper installation that all began with a chance discovery in a rat’s nest. 

The Valentine has been working tirelessly to reinterpret for a new audience the restored interiors of the 1812 Wickham House to reflect the period before the 1839 death of John Wickham. Recent work has focused on the McClurg bedchamber. Originally the Wickham’s principal guest room, the McClurg Bedchamber became the home of Mrs. Wickham’s widower father Dr. James McClurg from 1816 until his death in July 1823.

This project began with an important discovery during the house restoration: a tiny fragment of wallpaper pulled from a 19th century rat’s nest (watch the Hidden History Segment from WRIC). The New York firm Adelphi Paper Hangings worked from this scrap coupled with another nearly-matching full section of wallpaper from Historic New England’s archives to create our “Wickham Stripe” wallpaper. Located in Sharon Springs, New York, Adelphi Paper Hangings is a small, artisanal manufacturer of historically accurate block printed wallpapers. The “Wickham Stripe” wallpaper was block-printed by Adelphi staff using custom-carved pear wood printing blocks and distemper paint on a special French-made paper which is hand-seamed using rabbit glue.

Wallpaper installation is an artisan craft that requires years of experience to become a master hanger. Adelphi recommended Brian Conn of Oceans Wallcovering LLC for our current project. We could not have been in better hands this past week as the paper literally rolled out and up onto our walls – a first in our restoration of the Wickham House!

In addition to measuring the McClurg Bedchamber to place the order for the correct amount of paper (always factor in an extra 15 -20% for pattern-matching and possible future repairs!), Conn advised the museum to thoroughly prepare the existing plaster walls by filling any holes or cracks, smoothing them down with sandpaper and applying an oil-based primer. Conn installed an acid-free liner paper over the newly painted and sanded walls to ensure the best results for the “Wickham Stripe” wallpaper.

Come see the final results in person during our free Court End Christmas Open House on Sunday, December 10 from noon to 5 p.m.!

David Voelkel is the Elise H. Wright Curator of the General Collection

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