Showing posts with label Japan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Japan. Show all posts

Decorative Japanese Paper For Screens, c. 1897

Received a paper query from my conservator friend from Newport, RI, Alexandra Allardt (

Friends of hers are now the proud owners of a c. 1897 Ralph Adams Cram house built in a Japanese style in Fall River, MA. Many photos and a write-up are at this site, but make sure you're sitting down, this one is waaaaay over the top!

The new owners are renovating bit by bit and uncovered some interesting paper which appears to be original to the house. The paper involved is not really wallpaper, as we shall see, but it's close enough to make me want to know more.

The story of the discovery is a bit complicated. The  image shown below is the third layer down.

The outermost (most recent) decorative layer on the walls of one room was a grasscloth put on all walls in the 1960's (?); underneath was an early hardboard/sheetrock substrate covered in this same fabric, but more faded. Taking off this hardboard, they found fabric in better shape (the image you see above). But, this paper/muslin sandwich was not mounted on a solid frame, but on sliding screens.
Essentially, (deep breath), it is a stretched muslin covered with laminate of a fine paper substrate topped with dried botanical elements and real butterfly wings surmounted by a fine silky gauze top layer. These muslin/paper decorations cover 8 screens that slide across compartments in a built-in wall cabinet. The dimensions of the screens are as follows:

4 screens  are 25.5” H x  14.5” W with 3/8” fold over the edges.
4 screens are 13 5/8” H x 7” W with 3/8” fold over the edges

The muslin has been stapled to a stretcher made from ¾” bars,  then the paper layer appears to have been glued to the muslin (along the edge there are staples under the paper).  The paper appears to be continuous and not made from sheets. It is tissue-thin and smooth, but scattered nondirectional embedded fibers  provide texture. The gauze corner folds which neatly cover the underlying  corner muslin/paper folds suggest  that the gauze is applied last.  Perhaps one was allowed to choose the gauze color and/or the materials to be sandwiched. The discolorations in the image above are corroded  “gold” metal flakes.  There are also silver-colored flakes that are not corroded and which retain a silver color and bright reflectance.  

 One panel has a decidedly greenish tint.

The butterflies are real wings with printed paper bodies.  The botanicals are pressed ginkos, ferns and 3-leaf clover leaves. The base is a fine lightweight muslin over which a tissue weight paper is adhered.  The butterflies and leave are pressed but not adhered to the paper.  The plain weave fine gauze, suggestive of silk, is lightly adhered over the specimen. 

The next photo shows the effect of transmitted light.

Alex speculates that " looks to me as though you would buy the base muslin and paper botanical as a unit and then choose the color of the gauze.  The muslin/paper/botanic unit looks as if it were pasted to the edges of the stretcher….along the lines of a traditional screen making technique….as it dries it stretches nice and tight.  It seems to have been applied separate from the gauze  as the gauze is shorter than the muslin and goes over the muslin corner folds. As a unit it is  stretched over a ¾” deep stretcher.  These are all inserts into sliding windows…..imagine a small screen (shoji screens)...

...the house is unusual  in Cram's work in that it is a residence and early in his career. I think that the paper must have been brushed with an adhesive (maybe an alum) and then the gauze must have been damp when applied and stretched over the surface as it does not seem to be stuck to the butterflies but is stuck to the paper around the butterflies, securing them in position. The wall cabinet has funky Japanese shelves for display of dust collectors or maybe ikebana. The original owners were American missionaries in Japan. When they came home they had this house crafted for them."


Has anyone encountered these delicacies, or do you know about any sources to learn more about them?

Are there any ideas where the real stuff or interpretations of the real stuff can be found these days?

Thank you for your paper support!  


p.s., there is not much written about Chinese and Japanese papers used domestically in the early 20th century, but one online article is linked below:

House & Garden, Volume 33, Issue 2 - Volume 34, Issue 4 (Google eBook) (1918), "Oriental Papers For Occidental Walls" by Costen Fitz-Gibbon.

Japanese Wallpaper

Artful and intricate, "Leather Papers" contributed mightily to the elegant late 19th century interior, but we still know too little about them.

I was surprised yesterday when out of nowhere out pops an old friend in the middle of a list of search results: the fine article about Japanese leather paper by Felicity Leung.  The link is below, from which a free PDF can be downloaded.

LEUNG, F.. Japanese Wallpaper in Canada, 1880s-1930s. Material Culture Review / Revue de la culture matérielle, North America, 28, jun. 1988. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 31 Aug. 2011.

This article is almost a companion piece to Richard Nylanders "Elegant Late Nineteenth Century Wallpapers,"  The Magazine Antiques. August 1982, pp. 284-87. Nylander's article shows many of these wonders.


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