[Wallpaper] simply exists as wonderful evidence of human creativity. It is well worth looking at with new eyes, purely for itself.” (Catherine Lynn)

“The WALLPAPER” project affirms the value of looking at wallpaper with new eyes in an age when the study and appreciation of artifacts – real things – is being enhanced, but at the same time challenged, by the ease and ubiquity of visual culture.

What is visual culture? How does visual culture relate to literary culture and the spoken word? Is it an improvement? A substitute? Or is it merely a logical extension? These are interesting questions.

My main concern, though, is this: how should historical wallpaper artifacts be “framed,” for want of a better word, within this emerging visual culture? My project starts from an understanding that wallpaper does not pretend to be art (though pretense is never far from the presentation of wallpaper). Wallpaper is factual.

Aside from the monthly issues there are also three translated selections from Jacqué’s thesis deposited on Humanities Commons. The French language thesis itself is here:


The first translation (PDF 1) is a historiography tracing the written record from 1839.

PDF 2 tells how a restatement of Zuber’s “Scenic America,” a blockprint from 1835, was transformed in 1853 by adding hand-painted scenes of the Revolutionary War. In the early 20th century another transformation took place: these hand-painted scenes were enshrined into the scenic itself by creating blockprints of the hand-painting. Nancy McClelland, American author and decorator, plays a key role.

PDF 3 is about the scenic revival of the early to mid-twentieth century.

Moving on from the three stand-alone PDF’s just mentioned, the monthly newsletter project began in earnest with the first few issues of The WALLPAPER focusing on situating the inquiry. In Vol. 1, No. 1, three models for understanding wallpaper were considered: Catherine Lynn’s Wallpaper In America (1980) can be categorized as a design approach; Phillippa Mapes’ thesis “The English Wallpaper Trade, 1750-1830” is taken as an analytical approach; and Bernard Jacqué’s thesis “From The Workshop To The Wall” (2003) is a self-described material culture approach:

Vol. 1, No. 1: http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/k53d-ep66

Lynn’s work Wallpaper In America (1980 )has been the standard in the field for over forty years. Her self-imposed task was rescuing wallpaper from a century of neglect. A stand-alone issue is devoted to it (Vol. 1, No. 2.):

Vol. 1, No. 2: http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/fev8-se81

A comparison of the apparent values of the three different approaches mentioned above is the subject of Vol. 1, No. 3.

Vol. 1., No. 3: http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/brte-ke09

A close look at Bernard Jacqué, his methods, and his thesis takes up Vol. 1, No. 4.

A new definition of wallpaper is the subject of Vol. 1, No. 5:

A. Essential Meaning Of The Term Wallpaper: “Wallpaper is a species. It belongs to the genus cladding; its specific difference is paper.”

B. Non-essential Meaning Of The Term Wallpaper (based on properties and accidents): “Wallpaper is affordable and flexible, modular in form and design, ordinarily covered with a printed pattern, and made for decorating domestic walls.”

The Zuber patriarchy (Jean Zuber, Jean Zuber-Karth, and Ivan Zuber) who together ruled the company from its origins in the 1790s until World War I is the subject of issues 6 through 11 of the first volume.

The next issue of The WALLPAPER (No. 12) looked at the Décors of Zuber and Others. Vol. 2, No. 1, 2, and 3 looked at Zuber’s scenics.

Then Vol. 2, No. 4 considered the Tableaux of Zuber and Others, Vol. 2, No. 5 looked at so-called Tapestry papers, and Vol. 2, No. 6 presented an overview of scenics (not just Zuber’s). Panoramics, décors, tableaux, and tapestry papers are lumped together here as “The Pictorial Tradition.” This, as opposed to patterned wallpaper.

Rounding out the second year of publication, Vol. 2. No. 7 through No. 9 was a critique of Jacqué’s project. Was it a success? And if so, how did it succeed?

Vol. 2, No. 10, Pictorial/Patterned, was about types of wallpaper.

Vol. 2., No. 11., Worlds Not Wallpaper, took on the way that museums and the Artworld view wallpaper.

Vol. 2, No. 12, Wallpaper/Pattern, presented a dialogue between a present-day paperhanger and two well-known figures from the nineteenth century.

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2 Responses to

  1. Greg Kahler says:

    I think you Bob for Your brilliant writing.
    I did not see the subscribe button, maybe that’s because I’m on my phone and things are a bit small. I would appreciate being kept on your mailing list.
    I’m curious why you don’t charge a fee. Even though I have a problem with retaining written information, I read what you write and know that some of it seeps in.
    May this new Decade bring you the health and happiness that you’ve worked so hard for.
    Greg Kahler

  2. Hi Greg, thanks for kind remarks. There is no charge for ‘the wallpaper.’

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