CONSERVATION OF SCENIC WALLPAPERS: SAUVAGES DE LA MER DU PACIFIQUE
5 PREPARATION FOR INSTALLATION
DISPLAY MOUNTS for the panels were first constructed of a resin-sealed wooden lattice structure that was then covered on both sides with acid-free cardboard and paper. They were made to accommodate the height of the taller panels. Paper toned to match the sky had been added to the shorter rolls, bringing them to the proper measurement. The width of the mount was made to match the dimension relating to the design area of the wallpapers. In this way, the unprinted margin could be preserved by turning it onto the edge of the display mount. The panels could then be placed in close contact to achieve proper alignment of the images. Problems developed, however, because the width measurement for each panel varied. Creasing and folding all of the papers to a standard dimension meant that part of the image on many sections would be lost. To compensate, each mount was shimmed to the appropriate width by adding the necessary thickness of paper or rag board to the edge.
The last phase of treatment, attachment of the wallpaper to the display mounts, was undertaken. The plan was to stretch the lined papers across the mounts much the way a canvas is prepared for oil painting. Pins were to be temporarily placed through the extending lining into the edge of the mount. The entire panel would then be turned face down and the protruding lining stapled to the reverse. Two sections were mounted in this way and all seemed fine until the next day when San Francisco's fog appeared. The higher humidity caused the stretched sections to become unacceptably limp and buckled. This afforded us the unscheduled—and unwanted—opportunity to test the ease of treatment reversibility. Next, a climate not unlike a New York City mid-summer was simulated in the conservation laboratory. Water was set up to boil, the floor doused with moisture, and the thermostat turned to high. Under these “sweat shop” conditions all of the wallpaper panels were stretched. When the environment returned to normal, the mounted paper dried and became taut against its support. The slight tension that was achieved helps create the illusion that these papers when installed are directly pasted to the walls in the way that they would have been hung in 1810, and yet the wallpapers can be easily removed from their mounts if additional conservation is required at some later date.
We still had the question of what to do about the two missing sections, numbers 8 and 16. Mounts were constructed, and a well known scenic artist, Garth Benton, was employed. With the aid of color transparencies he reproduced the missing panels to near perfection. Viewed along-side the originals, the fascimiles are difficult to detect.
One final dilemma remained. The original exhibition scheme included placement of the Dufour paper on the walls of the recently acquired Newburyport room. To proceed with this plan would be to face the same problem that has arisen for as long as scenic wallpapers have been printed in standard sizes and later installed in rooms of differing dimensions. Contemporary papers pose little problem. They can be trimmed to match room specifications as necessary. Dufour wallpapers, however, have emerged as rare and important historic objects, indicated in part by the great care given them in conservation. The idea of trimming even the unprinted margins, much less the extensive sky region, was out of the question. At one point, consideration was given to elevating the ceiling, but this also was unacceptable if the parlor's proportional aesthetics were to be preserved. After considerable discussion, an excellent resolution finally emerged: to place the papers in a separate gallery adjoining the Newburyport room (Fig. 4). There the elegant images depicting Cook's voyages could be viewed at their full height, uninterrupted by cutouts for doors and windows. The illusion works, and it is easy to imagine these “picturesque” scenes on the walls of the adjacent parlor from America's Federal period.
Sauvages de la Mer du Pacifique, Dufour wallpaper, detail of several panels after treatment and gallery installation.
THE SUCCESS of this project would not have been possible without the inspired help of an entire group of conservators and technicians. Interaction of paper and painting conservators yielded a treatment result that was far superior than could be achieved without that cooperation. Those most directly responsible were James Bernstein, Niccolo Caldararo, Debbie Fox, Leslie Kruth, Mary Wood Lee, Pauline Mohr, Brenda Palley, Mark Tucker, and Melinda Tucker.