New Pattern – Norton Conyers Diamond (Jane Eyre Was Hyre)

Norton ConyersIn February of 2010 we were contacted by Lady Halina Graham.  She and her husband, Sir James, were in midst of renovating the Graham family home, Norton Conyers, near Ripon, in North Yorkshire, England.  During the course of an extensive renovation an 18th century wallpaper was discovered and they were contemplating having it reproduced.

Lady Graham writes:
“Norton Conyers is one of the most complex and largest timber-framed houses in the north of England. A house has stood here since Viking times and each generation has put their own mark on the building. Outside each of the facades looks as if it belongs to a different building. Inside recent research has established that several different buildings of different periods were incorporated into what is now Norton Conyers.

The wallpaper was found behind 18th century paneling in a cupboard next to the house maid’s room. We know that the house maid’s room was originally much larger and grander but part of it was done away with when the 1780s ceiling was created. We do not know if this was the original place for the wall paper or whether it had been used in the grander rooms downstairs. This room had wallpaper which was stuck onto canvas and held together by a wooden frame and we found evidence of a soft woolen-type fabric which would have given it a much softer look which we are told was French”.

Norton Conyers fragmentAs the scale of the pattern is relatively large it was fortunate that the Graham’s were able provide us with sizeable sections of the original. This allowed us to compare several repeats and verify pattern elements where either paint loss had occurred or where the printing was slightly out of register.

The fashion for using border meant another bit of luck for us. While most of the fragments were badly discolored the edges which had been covered by border retained enough of the color to, after analysis, be duplicated.

It’s not surprising that since Norton Conyers Diamond, Pagodas and West St. Mary’s, all date from approximately the same time period that they share some basic design characteristics.

West St. Mary's

Pagodas

The first colors on all three are simple, localized areas of the design.  For Pagodas these shapes were applied using stencils.   Whether the first color was stenciled on Norton Conyers is difficult to determine. There are very few points at which the paint edge was discernable –it is at this edge where it’s sometime possible to detect brush marks, an indication of stencil use.

The second color defines and gives specific details to the shapes of the first color but doesn’t necessarily unify the overall pattern.

The last printed color (black for Pagodas, white for West St. Mary’s and dark red for Norton Conyers) adds further details and, more importantly, creates the overall structure: either a sinewy vine, a somewhat formal meandering ribbon or precise diamond grid embellished with floating roses.

And Jane Eyre?  Well, Charlotte Bronte actually.   In 1839 she visited Norton Conyers.  Apparently she was intrigued with the story of a “madwoman” locked away in the mansion’s  attic 6o years earlier.  Of course, details of the space and the mansion later were retold in the description of Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre. No mention was made of a yellow wallpaper.

Posted in Historic houses, Historic patterns, New patterns

Stripes

In the current issue of World of Interiors (July 2011), Maud Hewlings’ article, Stars in Stripes, cleverly features a staple in the wallpaper industry: stripes. You might think that such a simple design – and how much more simple can a design be than straight, unadorned, unbroken stripes – must be well represented in the archives of 18th and 19th century block printed wallpapers.

Well….no. There are a only a few illustrations in the standard wallpaper reference books and still fewer examples in collections.  One example can be found in the online wallpaper catalog at Historic New England, a small fragment of Otis Federal Stripe.   Arthur & Robert document

The document on the left  is from our archive, which we have reproduced as the Arthur and Robert Stripe.

But it’s clear that straight stripes were not a frequently used style with block printed wallpaper. Were stripes perhaps too simple for interior fashions of the time? Or was it, as we at Adelphi have suspected, that the printers tended to agitate when someone in the design studio proposed something as innocuous as a delicate cluster of 1/8th inch wide straight stripes?

The reason for this imagined foment is that the accurate printing of stripes is very difficult until one learns the eccentricities of the specific block used; after that it’s only maddening. Even with the registration pins the task is akin closing one’s eyes, extending one’s arms and trying to make one’s index fingers meet.  As a result, pattern accuracy on block printed wallpaper frequently deviates several degrees from perfection.

When printing stripes the slightest misalignment from one print to the next results in a stripe alignmentnoticeable jag.  This close up of the Arthur and Robert document shows an area where the block printing the lightest color at the left didn’t quite match up.

The two photos below show the printing of the stripes on the Otis Federal Stripe pattern.  Initially we printed all four sets of stripes with a full block; later we realized that we could print more accurately by printing them in pairs, so the block was cut in half.

In the 19th century two technological advancements eased the printer’s task and increased production speed. The first was a simple inverted triangular shaped paint trough; it was equipped with narrow, adjustable openings in the bottom under which the paper stock was gradually pulled, allowing the paint to be deposited.

The second development, more elaborate and ultimately more important, was roller printing.  As opposed to block printing, in which the block is charged with paint each time it is applied, the raised printing surface of the roller is continuously and automatically recharged.  This was the perfect Industrial Age solution for producing straight stripes.

The 19th century roller was made of wood and brass; this mid-20th century version was fabricated from aluminum and plastic, but they worked the same way.

Roller printing certainly made the production of all wallpaper faster . . . but here at Adelphi, being devoted to block printing as we are, we‘ll continue playing with our blocks.

That doesn’t mean we will neglect stripes. There are already Arthur & Robert and Otis Federal Stripe, mentioned above, but there’s more to come, including this one, a new original Adelphi pattern in development that includes stripes on an irisé ground.

Posted in Equipment, Historic patterns, New patterns, Production, Roller printing

Janes and Bolles Patterns – A good place to start

Before the formation of Adelphi Paper Hangings in 1999 we were the American Paperstaining Manufactory, a wallpaper printing demonstration program at the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, New York. This project started in 1996 when Chris Ohrstrom, co-owner of Adelphi, offered to set up the program and enlisted one the museum’s interpreters, Wendy Weeks, to head the project.  I joined the following year.

Janes & Bolles sample bookAmong the first patterns which we printed were five relatively simple early American patterns from the earliest surviving sample book known to exist from an American manufacturer.  This artifact, from the Janes and Bolles Company of Hartford, Connecticut (1822-1828), is in the collection of the Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachusetts.

The company of Janes and Bolles, while not an outstanding innovator, did produce a product squarely in tune with their time and market place: unpretentious and, judging by the less than obsessive print quality, probably fairly moderately priced. One would be just as likely to find these in the parlors of a well-to-do farmer as an urban middle class merchant.

Coffered Squares

“Relatively simple” refers to the design of the patterns; it certainly doesn’t reflect the ease of printing for those of us who were very new to the very old technique of producing block printed wallpaper.   It was a good place to start.  Three of the patterns consist of one printed color, the others have two colors; none of the patterns have large expanses of color, which can be tricky to print, nor are there any tiny, fragile details which have their own eccentricities.

Ornament & Stripe

Ornament & Stripe

(Reproductions of the Janes & Bolles patterns are licensed to Adelphi by Old Sturbridge Village.)

Each of the patterns presented opportunities for learning and posed a few questions.

The size of the blocks for all five patterns lent themselves to easy handling by a novice:   these are “half-blocks.”  What we refer to as “full blocks” are those which print the entire width of the pattern with an 18” – 22” repeat.

Half blocks therefore only print half the width of the pattern. The printer makes an impression first on the left or closest side, then another on the right.

Half blocks are also used when the block spans the entire width of the pattern but when the vertical repeat is relatively short.

The advantage of small blocks for the manufacturer was, of course, that the expense of having the blocks carved was more affordable than for larger ones. However, when the printer approached the bench this cost savings vanishes: there’s the additional time needed to actually print a roll – maybe not quite twice as long, but definitely longer – and there is the increased possibility for misalignment and, therefore, heightened frustration level.

And why, for example, did the person who designed Flowerbaskets choose to divide the narrow stripe in half at each edge rather than keep it whole on one side or another?

Flowerbaskets

A complete stripe (as seen in the center of the pattern) would have made installation much easier. As it is, if they had been printed slightly out of square, matching the half lozenge shapes would be difficult. Of course, this concern is the result of being accustomed to perfectly matched machine printed wallpaper. Early 19th century wallpapers, especially American ones were, at times, somewhat approximate in design or print quality.

And as was often the case (and still is) inspiration for pattern design was derived from other fashionable wallpapers and textiles of the time. When comparing Pawprint and Stripe to Franklin Stripe it’s easy to connect the American pattern to the earlier French one.  And Circle Ornament could certainly be mistaken for a coverlet design of the period.

Paw Prints & Stripe (left); Franklin Stripe (right)

Circle Ornament

Since developing the Janes & Bolles patterns for reproduction, Adelphi has gone on to do many more complex patterns.  But our experience sorting out some of the design and production issues with these five “relatively simple” patterns certainly provided a good starting place.

Steve Larson

Posted in Blocks, Historic patterns, Production | 1 Comment

Decorative Folding Screens at Adelphi

They have been a long time in the making, but we are very pleased to offer our interpretation of the traditional decorative folding screen.Chevron & Laurel screen

Our screens are available with 2, 3 or 4 panels. The standard height is 6 feet, but this can be adjusted as required; the width of each panel is determined by the pattern used. As with our wallpapers and borders, each screen is made to order. Clients can select any of our patterns, in any colorway plus specify colors to be used for the panel framework and reverse side panel.

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We particularly pleased with the special canvas hinging system we’ve developed. It is a modified and improved version of the hinges found on18th and 19th century screens that we have seen here and in France. Eminently functional, these hinges are visually unobtrusive and eliminate the need to disguise (i.e. paint), or attempt to ignore, the common metal hinges typically used today.

While some of the sample screens shown here and on the website feature a single sidewall pattern, perhaps trimmed with an appropriate border, we would like to encourage clients to consider experimenting with combinations of two or three patterns.

Screens of the 18th century typically incorporated several patterns such as this one using the Locust Grove Arabesque, Prince-Rollins Marble and trimmed with the Reveillon Border.

Locust Grove Arabesque

Folding Screens and Wallpaper

As with most of our work, these screens take their inspiration from historic models. After its introduction to Europe from China, folding screens became a fixture in well appointed households. From the beginning there was a natural affinity between wallpaper and screens.

In the 18th century, wallpaper was not adhered directly to the wall but was mounted on a wooden frame on which canvas had been stretched. These panels were then attached to the wall. The same craftsmen who constructed and covered these wall panels also made folding screens as decorative objects and movable partitions.

Perhaps it’s simply that wallpaper is printed in widths of roughly the same size as conventional screen panels that make the pairing so easy.  Whatever the reason, screens are a very clever and convenient vehicle for displaying a bit of pattern and color in a room—and easily moving it if the need arises.

Part of the inspiration for this addition to our product line came from visitors to the Adelphi workshop in Sharon Springs. First time visitors usually start their tour by lingering around the presses, asking Michele, Jenn or Dave questions about the technique of block printing, etc.  Eventually though they’ll wander into the smaller of the two workrooms, glance to the right at papers tacked to the wall…then to the left.   It’s never long before they notice something else in the room and always ask: “Oh, did you make that, too?”

Alas, no.  What they’ve spotted is the decorative folding screen by the lunch table.  The screen was found by a friend of the company in Toronto and has been in the workshop ever since.

Though it’s covered with sections of what appears to be a scenic wallpaper and trimmed with an early 19th century neo-classical dado and block printed border, the date of manufacture is open to question.  “Manufacture” is not meant to imply that it came from the hands of professional upholsterer or furniture maker–it’s decidedly a homemade project. The vertical borders as well as the decoration on the reverse side are clearly hand painted. The screen does feature canvas hinges, although less refined than our version.

We see decorative folding screens as having the potential to provide a very individual and tangible focus to a room.  At the same time the process of designing our screens–the combining of colors and patterns to be used–presents an unusual opportunity for collaboration.  Please free to contact us with your ideas.

Posted in News, Screens | 2 Comments