THE REMOVAL AND CONSERVATION TREATMENT OF A SCENIC WALLPAPER, PAYSAGE À CHASSES, FROM THE MARTIN VAN BUREN NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
Patricia Hamm, & James Hamm
ABSTRACT—Paysage à Chasses, a large scenic wallpaper printed first in 1831 by Jean Zuber et Cie in France, had been purchased by Martin Van Buren during his presidency and survives as one of his few remaining possessions. A summary of the first survey of condition is presented with the reasons why a removal and reinstallation treatment was decided upon. The treatment steps are outlined and recommendations for a more stabilized environment in the future are made based on data collected for one year from a recording hygrothermograph.
IN JUNE OF 1977 as we drove up the curved driveway toward the Federal-style house known as “Lindenwald” in Kinderhook, N.Y., we noticed that the National Park Service had already begun its renovations. The front porch had been removed, and uniformed Park Service personnel were all about. The home of the eighth President of the United States, Martin Van Buren, “Lindenwald” had been recently purchased by the National Park Service, and plans were underway for an opening in the spring of 1982, a date that seemed in the distant future. The Curator had requested a survey of the scenic wallpaper in the dining hall. As we were to learn later, this wallpaper and a Brussels carpet from the same room were some of the few remaining possessions known to have been in fact placed there by Martin Van Buren.
2 DESCRIPTION OF THE WALLPAPER
THEPaysage à Chasses scenic wallpaper, printed by Jean Zuber in the 1830's in what is now Alsace-Lorraine, was hung during the redecoration period (1839–41) in the dining hall of “Lindenwald.” It was printed from approximately 1250 woodblocks in 142 colors, and takes its place among the fine scenic wallpapers which were produced in France at that time.1 This example of wallpaper reflects one of the remarkable technical achievements for which the Zuber factory was noted, namely the color-blended effect known as ombré or irisé.2
The 32 panels necessary to complete the four hunting scenes are repeated 1½ times, giving 45 panels on the north and south walls (each panel measuring eight feet long and 18½ inches wide). The paper support for the scenics is an early example of the wove, continuous roll type of paper. The decorative dado, printed by Jacquemart and Bernard,3 which was placed below the scenics on the wall was printed on sheets approximately 17″ × 21″. They are of laid, hand-made sheets of paper which had been adhered together before printing the repeating ballustrade pattern.
In order to present an account of the wallpaper after “Lindenwald” had passed through the hands of ten owners in 140 years, the authors will describe the scenic wallpaper at the time of their first survey.
3 FIRST SURVEY
THE IMMEDIATELY previous owner, who had used the house as an antique shop, had many of the shop's possessions still piled in the first floor rooms, especially the large dining room. Tapestries were hanging on several sections of the wallpaper along with a large array of pictures.
There was little light in the room except from the two small windows on the east wall (Fig. 1). The paper support of the wallpaper panels hanging closest to these windows could be seen through the losses of media to have turned brown. The sky of the wallpaper appeared a glossy, dark green rather than the anticipated matte, pale blue because of a heavy, irregular surface varnish which had darkened considerably. Mold staining appeared through the wallpaper but was especially noticeable in the sky.
Water damage could be seen in conjunction with a steam radiator as well as from leaks in the roof. There also seemed to be a kind of mottled water-stain appearing in wide expanses throughout the wallpaper.
Numerous tears were present, some corresponding to cracks in the walls. Through the many tears one could observe that part of the rough plaster support was crumbling while other smoother areas had been painted dark blue. Hints of painted decorations were noticeable through the dark blue painted areas. Through the tears one could also see that a liner of wallpaper had been placed irregularly throughout the room. Detachment was a serious problem with perhaps only 50% of the wallpaper remaining securely attached to the wall (Fig. 2).
Before treatment view of the north wall
It appeared from certain tears and mends made during the hanging that the wallpaper was either difficult to handle or hung by inexperienced hangers. Its obvious water-solubility had given the hangers further problems. However, it was finally hung with overlapping edges using a strong flour paste. Insects, mostly silverfish living under the moldings and in the cracks in the walls, caused substantial, characteristic losses, while accretions were limited to the lighter printed areas.
The manufacturing trait of placing heavy layers of media upon extremely granular ground layers led to the characteristic cracking, cupping, cleaving, and loss of paint found in many French wallpapers (Figs. 3, 4). This fragile attachment meant that merely touching the surface of the wallpaper would send flakes of paint popping off the support. It appeared that certain green copper pigments were creating a severe embrittlement and darkening of the paper support. These weakened areas were sites for concentrated complex tears.
Characteristic cupping, cracking, cleavage and loss
The following observations made that day led us to recommend that the wallpaper should be removed from the wall for its proper treatment.
- In a large part of the 15′ × 42′ dining hall, the plaster finishing coat or the wall itself seemed to be crumbling, so that the wallpaper was irregularly detached in too many areas to justify local reattachment. Furthermore, it was not known whether or not the plaster required consolidation throughout, an operation which, of course, would dictate removal of the wallpaper.
- Much debris from the crumbling wall was lodged between the wallpaper and the wall.
- Many of the large tears would no longer meet due to stretching and warping of the paper support.
- It was felt that surface coating removal could not be executed in situ without excessive mottling because of the penetration of the coating and its irregular application.
- It was also felt that the paper support in the northeast and southeast corners would require reinforcing by lining, which could only be done by first removing them from the wall.
- The excessive mold growth, dirt and irregular accumulations of adhesive suggested removal for proper treatment.
- The use of a vacuum hot table seemed appropriate in flattening and reattaching flaking paint.
At an early symposium on the Martin Van Buren wallpaper held in April 1978, a panel of conservators, architectural analysts and curatorial staff concurred with our recommendations for a removal and reinstallation type of treatment.4
The wall area covered originally by the wallpaper was approximately 815 square feet. With the passage of time, more alterations occurring in the dining hall, and by the time of our survey 680 square feet of scenic and dado wallpaper was left to be considered. With the contract negotiations over, conservation treatment began in the fall of 1978.
4 DISCUSSION OF TREATMENT
THE WALLPAPER WAS photographed with 35mm black-and-white negative film and Ektachrome color transparencies. Each wallpaper panel was divided into three frames. The dado was also divided into separate frames. Each photograph included a number code and color or gray scales. The black-and-white negatives were processed archivally and stored in acid-free folders after being printed on resin-coated paper. The color slides were labeled and presented in clear plastic sleeves in a folder. All photographs were keyed to a diagram detailing their placement. Individual examination report sheets were written on each panel and dado, pointing out tears, losses, stains, etc. A survey report was written on the entire collection of wallpaper, listing dimensions, types of paper, media, binders, etc.
BEFORE BEGINNING the treatment on the entire 45 panels, a prototype was selected—the 5½ panels in the southeast corner. The treatment of these panels was carried through to the point of reattachment. When it was complete, it was reviewed. It was at that time that the remaining treatment of 600 square feet was begun.
4.3 Treatment Steps
- The paint layers were consolidated by spraying with a 10% solution of polyvinyl acetate emulsion Jade #403, and a wetting agent. Excess consolidant was removed during the removal of the surface coating.
- The wallpaper was removed from the wall using slight moisture and spatulas.
- More of the consolidant was used to locally strengthen the media's adhesion to the support, and the cupping was partially flattened using local heat and pressure.
- The liner was removed from the verso using slight moisture.
- The adhesive residue, mold, and dirt were removed mechanically from the verso.
- Patching was done using Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste plus PVA emulsion (Fig. 5).
- The oil-resin surface coating was removed using methanol and N.N dimethylformamide as a solution.
- Inserts were shaped and placed in the large losses, and small losses were filled with paper pulp. Two weights of insert papers were employed because of the varying thickness of the paper support.
- Deacidification was done by brushing with magnesium methoxide in methyl alcohol and Freon.
- A consolidating lining was placed on the weakest panels—namely the prototype. A dilute methacrylate emulsion, Rhoplex AC33, on a lightweight western hemp paper was used.
- On all the panels a lining of very fine weave fiberglass with a mixture of emulsions, Rhoplex AC33 and N580,5 was applied under the heat and vacuum pressure of a vacuum hot table.
- A B-72 methacrylate resin in a 10% solution was used as an isolating coating.
- Inpainting was executed in Bocour Magna Colors (Figs. 6, 7).
- A final resin coating was applied using the same B-72 solution.
Numerous pieces were carefully fitted back together
Before inpainting detail
After inpainting detail of same area
REATTACHING to the wall will be done as soon as the restoration of the historic structure is complete—probably in 1982. For that process several interesting factors must be considered:
- Should the wallpaper be placed directly upon the wall, or should it be capable of being removed again, for instance, in the case of damage to the historic house.
- The wallpaper support cannot obscure the decorative moldings at the tops and bottoms of the walls or around the doors and windows.
- The walls are not flat. The moldings are uneven.
- The plaster varies greatly in strength and surface. The newer plaster may require consolidation.
5 FUTURE STABILITY
THE STABILITY OF the wallpaper in the future is, of course, of interest to the authors. For that reason we have undertaken to survey the environment into which it will be hung and make recommendations. Two factors stand out in our considerations:
- The dining hall cannot be considered a separate room from the rest of the house when recommending environmental parameters.
- As has been so well documented in the past few years, historic houses cannot be heated or humidified to the same extent as more modern structures.
Based on studying one year's worth of data from a recording hygrothermograph set up in the dining hall, talking with site personnel, and observing changes in the house through the seasons, we have proposed the following recommendations.
To smooth out the wide recorded variations in actual moisture content (a difference of 6 times from winter to summer), the temperature should be kept low during the winter (45–50°F). It should then be easier (i.e., require less humidification) to maintain a higher relative humidity (45–50%) than before. During the summer, dehumidification has to be emphasized in order to maintain a reasonable R.H. (45–50%) and to prevent excessive moisture buildup in the walls. The temperature should be approximately 70–75°F. These limits can be maintained without exorbitant cost or undue stress on the building's fabric. Keeping the temperature and relative humidity within these ranges will mean an annual fluctuation of only 2 times actual moisture content.
Furthermore, we also recommend the use of the inherent temperature moderating elements of the historic stucture. In the case of the Martin Van Buren house, the shutters, inside and outside, were meant to be used to insulate the windows, thus inhibiting dramatic changes in temperature.
Besides environmental stabilization, the following will help to maximize the longevity of the wallpaper:
- UF-3 Plexiglas should be placed in the small east wall windows.
- Visitor traffic should be carefully supervised.
- Maintenance, especially the painting of moldings, should be supervised.
- A careful routine maintenance schedule for cleaning the dining hall should be developed. And finally, a yearly survey-maintenance schedule has been recommended by the site superintendent.
EVEN THOUGH wallpapers, and certainly scenic wallpapers, have been treated in the past, the authors know of no instance where the commitment to full and proper treatment has been as great as with the National Park Service, North Atlantic Region. It has been a pleasure working with such people whose standards and expectations are so high.
A. L. Diament & Co., “Historic Notes on the Scenic Papers of the A. L. Diament & Co.” Philadelphia.
CatherineLynn, Wallpaper in America, W. W. Norton and Co., New York (1980), p. 274.
JamesHamm and Patricia D.Hamm, “Historic Wallpaper in the Historic Structure: Factors Influencing Degradation and Stability,” Conservation Within Historic Buildings, The International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, London (1980), p. 173.
4:2:1 Rhoplex AC-33:Rhoplex N-580:distilled water.