A serendipitous discovery and a welcome volunteer lead to a new exhibit, now in development

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 11/21/20

If this pandemic has given us anything, it's been ample time to take in the walls that surround us. While this is not always a good thing, sometimes it can lead to unexpected discoveries, as was the …

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A serendipitous discovery and a welcome volunteer lead to a new exhibit, now in development

Posted

If this pandemic has given us anything, it's been ample time to take in the walls that surround us. While this is not always a good thing, sometimes it can lead to unexpected discoveries, as was the case with longtime Linden Place volunteer David Harrington. Not long ago, on a day spent organizing the archives, he came across an old box full of leftover wallpaper rolls. Opening one, he immediately recognized the wallpaper in the Museum's gift shop — formerly the 1840 billiard room addition to the 1810 Federal mansion.

The paper in the space, a panoramic landscape of a verdant formal garden is distinctive, intact, and, as Mr. Harrington found, may very well be original to the space.

  "I wrote to an interior designer friend of mine who recognized the paper immediately," said Mr. Harrington. The friend identified it as one of many patterns manufactured by Zuber, a French company. "I went to the Zuber website, and lo and behold, there it was," said Mr. Harrington.

A career on hold

Elisabeth Iacono is a 2014 Mt. Hope High School graduate who got her undergraduate degree in Colonial American History and Anthropology at UNH, before getting a Masters in Museum Studies at Tufts University, graduating in May. "The job market for museums is atrociously bad right now," laments Ms. Iacono. However, she isn't letting that stop her from pursuing her passion, so she is currently volunteering at both Linden Place and the Tennis Hall of Fame, in anticipation for the date that she will be able to join a museum staff, full time.
"We call her Miss Museum," said Mr. Harrington. "She's a great asset to Linden Place, and she's got a wonderful career ahead of her."

Realizing the opportunity presented by having an up-and-coming museum professional who is looking for new challenges and experiences, in-house, Mr. Harrington brought Ms. Iacono up to speed with what he'd found.

A French treasure

Zuber is not just any wallpaper company — established in 1797 in Rixheim, in the Alsace region of France, the factory is sited in a former commandry of the Teutonic Knights. Zuber is the oldest surviving wallpaper manufacturer in the world, and is still printing wallpaper to this day. Examples of Zuber papers can be found in fine public and private buildings around the world, including the White House. There, a Zuber print titled Vues de l’Amerique du Nord (“Views of North America”), depicting panoramic scenes of New York, West Point, the Natural Bridge of Virginia, and Boston Harbor, graces the walls of the Diplomatic Reception Room.

The factory has retained documents and manufacturing tools since their founding, and still holds some 150,000 woodblocks that were carved by its workers between 1797 and 1870.
Zuber still uses the same hand-printing techniques in use since the 18th century, a combination of techniques that includes hand-brushing, silk screen printing, screen gilding, finishes, ageing, hand-made patina, velveting, and embossing. Their antique woodblocks are registered as “Monuments Historiques” by the French Ministry of Culture.

The panorama in the Linden Place billiard room is a combination of two patterns, "Les lointains" and "Le bocage." The former is still printed today "à la planche" with the 149 antique woodblocks, carved in 1825 by the manufactory's workers; the latter dates from 1825 as well, and is printed with 250 antique woodblocks. The paper was most likely acquired some time after 1840 by a family member on a trip abroad.

An art form, back in style

Wallpaper has been around since for nearly 500 years, and like any decorative art form, its fortunes rose and fell with the whims of style. In fact, by the beginning of the 20th century it was found in the finest homes — and the poorest — leading to it falling out of favor by the late 20th century. Both increasing competition from the paint indistry as well as the oil crisis of the early 1970's combined to negatively impact the sales of fine papers, leaving mostly cheap, mass-produced papers representing the industry. Recently, wallpaper has been enjoying a comeback, spurred on by digital printing and the revival of screen printing.

An exhibition, to come

"David asked if I'd be interested in working on an exhibit about wallpaper," Ms. Iacono said. "And I said, yeah sure, why not? I'm interested in objects. I never thought about wallpaper before this but I'm excited." With the discovery of a French national treasure in a dusty old box at Linden place, a recent graduate will have an opportunity to develop and curate her first museum exhibition, and Linden Place will uncover yet another facet of the history of its decorative arts collection. While the timeline is unclear, it will most likely come together in the first half of 2021.

Linden Place, Zuber

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