ON APRIL 24–26, 1980, a Wallpaper Conservation Symposium was held in Andover, Massachusetts, for the purpose of bringing to bear the different points of view of professional conservators, curators, historians and architects on the complex problem of wallpaper conservation. Wallpaper conservation tends to be problematic by its nature, because of the large scale of the projects and the complexity of the media. Further, wallpaper is often an integral part of a historic structure which imposes additional demands in terms of aesthetics, structural reinforcement and environmental conditions. A number of conservators have done experimental work in this area, but there is clearly a need for further research and evaluation.
The Symposium was co-sponsored by the National Park Service, North Atlantic Region, and the New England Document Conservation Center. The committee which organized the Symposium included: Andrea Gilmore, Historic Preservation Conservator, North Atlantic Historic Preservation Center, National Park Service; Edward L. Kallop, Jr., Staff Curator, North Atlantic Region, National Park Service; Ann Russell, Director, New England Document Conservation Center; and Mary Todd Glaser, Senior Conservator, New England Document Conservation Center. Funding for the program was provided in part by the Eastern National Park and Monument Association.
Momentum for organizing the Symposium grew out of an experience of the Park Service in evaluating several proposals for a major wallpaper conservation project at the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site in Kinderhook, New York. In order to choose among the proposals presented by several conservators, the Park Service convened an interdisciplinary panel of experts who explored the implications of different approaches for the reinstallation of the paper, the relationship of the wallpaper to other architectural aspects of the room, etc.
Members of the Park Service curatorial staff found that the interdisciplinary exchange was highly valuable in terms of identifying, if not resolving, technical and ethical considerations relating to preservation of historic wallpapers.
The Symposium organizers expected that the program in Andover might have limited appeal, and so they were surprised when over 100 individuals from 24 different states, plus Canada, registered to attend. The professions of curator, conservator, historian and architect were well represented, and there were also individuals from related fields, such as the wallpaper manufacturing industry and the interior decorating field. Although the Symposium was intended to identify questions more than to resolve them, the committee felt the papers actively provided more answers than expected.
In the eighteen months that have elapsed since the Symposium, a number of outcomes have become evident, including greater awareness on the part of conservators and curators of the value of interdisciplinary approaches to the problem. In the intervening period, a number of museums and historical institutions have turned to NEDCC for consultation and services in planning or implementing wallpaper conservation projects. In addition, several private individuals have turned to our Center for help, in an effort to give responsible care to valuable historic papers in their homes. And, wallpaper manufacturers are showing an increasing interest in turning to documentary sources for their reproductions.
At the conclusion of the Symposium, participants expressed the view that it would be valuable to meet again at some future time to report on further developments in this rapidly developing area of conservation. Symposium organizers agreed to consider organizing a follow-up meeting, but as one representative insisted: “Not next year.” There was also a consensus that the papers should be published as a body to serve as a much needed resource in the emerging field of wallpaper conservation. The Symposium committee is grateful that AIC has made it possible to bring this body of information to public attention.