Birds of A Feather: Lorenzo Revisited



A while ago the Wallpaper History Review carried a query about a wallpaper which graced the Library, one of two state rooms either side of an impressive entrance hall at Poltimore House, near Exeter, Devon. The Friends of Poltimore House sought information about this “. . . design of oriental-type green pheasants on a white ground . . . when the paper was taken down [in 1945] the names of the paperhangers and a date in the 1880s were discovered but nothing further is known of its origin or date of manufacture. It is a hand block-printed paper, 660mm (25.75 inches) wide with a repeat pattern of 1074mm (42.5 inches).”

1. green document extant at Poltimore House

2. Library at Poltimore House about 1912

It’s funny how quickly a distinctive pattern can be recognized. Soon I was alerting Jocelyn Hemming, a volunteer with Poltimore House, that this wallpaper was an old friend. In no time Jocelyn and I were exchanging emails and plumbing the depths of wallpaper history. I had no idea there was a green version. The paper I worked with in the early 90’s was all pinks and reds. The house it went into is “Lorenzo,” built for John Lincklaen on a knoll at the southern end of Cazenovia Lake in 1807. Inspired by Jocelyn’s query, I contacted Barbara Bartlett, the then-Restoration Coordinator for New York State Parks, Central Region. Barbara is now director at Lorenzo.

3. Lorenzo, built 1807

In the interim, Barbara had been informed that one of the Rockefeller/Roosevelt/Aldrich clan had used the green version in a family home in the Hudson Valley—no doubt there were many such installations. It makes me wonder if other versions will surface, in addition to the red and green. Why not bisque, or grissaille?

Lorenzo arose at a time when the Holland Land Company, of which Lincklaen was an agent, owned as many as three million acres in far western New York and Pennsylvania. But, it was a time of boom or bust. As the market sputtered, the Company more or less unloaded thousands of acres on Lincklaen. The builder of Lorenzo died penniless in 1822. Oliver Phelps of Suffield, Connecticut owned over two million acres in mid-New York State adjacent and to the east of  the Holland Purchase, but he died broke too, in Canandaigua. Phelps’ claim to wallpaper fame is the glorious suite of Reveillon wallpapers which were installed during an enlargement of his house in 1795. Phelps lost the house in 1802, but all was preserved by the Hatheways, who began their long residency in 1811.

Lorenzo’s next owner was Lincklaen’s brother-in-law, Jonathan Ledyard. The house then passed to Jonathan’s son, Lincklaen Ledyard, in 1843. His aunt asked him to preserve the family name, so he reversed his name. From then on, he was Ledyard Lincklaen. Lorenzo became the family's summer respite from their professional and social careers in Albany (the capital of New York) and New York City. Ledyard Lincklaen’s daughter married Charles S. Fairchild in 1871, and the couple inherited Lorenzo in 1894. Fairchild was Attorney General of New York; he prosecuted the Tweed Ring and the Canal Ring, and later became Secretary of the Treasury under Grover Cleveland. It was during the Fairchild residency that the block-printed bird paper was installed in the central hall around 1901.

 On my first visit to the house in the fall of 1991 I was shown end rolls with “Zuber # 6872 SPRS” printed on the selvedge. These had been squirreled away in the attic. Condition of the hallway installation was poor; the paper had been printed on highly acidic paper and hung directly on plaster walls. Moisture had migrated into the paper stock, saturating and damaging the paper and distemper ground. Some areas of the wallpaper were lighter than others; this proved to be where it had pulled away from the wall. It was decided that conservation was not feasible. This difficult decision was made more palatable by the discovery that, against all odds, Zuber still had the blocks! Plans for the installation of a reproduction wallpaper moved ahead and the walls were stripped. After plaster repairs the walls were sized with traditional glue. 

4. Barry Blanchard trimming selvedge
The design features birds perching on branches of a larch tree. One is a ring-necked or hooded pheasant last seen loitering in the foreground of the Zuber scenic “El Dorado” (1849), the other represents the mate (?). The design colors were flat and chalky pinks and reds but the ground was a machine-coated beige distemper pretreated with a water-soluble refined gelatin. It may have been polished prior to the coating. In any case, it was clearly a satin ground. The printed width of the paper was 25.75”, and the vertical design repeat was a drop match of 42.5”. Because of the large repeat, the rolls were put up in alternate “A” and “B” rolls to minimize waste during cutting and hanging. 

Mrs. Fairchild donated samples of the bird paper to the fledgling Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in 1900 (at that time the Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration), along with samples of a Reveillon arabesque (IVB9, manufacture Reveillon no. 688, dated 1789 in Bernard Jacqué's catalogue raisonnè). The arabesque came from a different house on the Lorenzo estate. I shall never forget the discovery of a harp tax stamp on the exceedingly rough canvas which supported the paper. It did my Irish-American heart good. Both canvas and paper had been stretched and tacked to a folding screen. 

While researching this project, we soon discovered that a nearly identical design shows up in an early 20th century portfolio of samples from A. L. Diament; the ad states that the paper is “Machine Printed by . . . Desfosee & Karth . . .”, and that “ . . . a 52 inch, hand blocked linen exactly matches the paper.” 

5. page from an A. L. Diament portfolio
The Zuber strike-off was successfully block-printed, but the the ground was hand-brushed in distemper, leaving the entire surface flat in reflective value, unlike the original. The company insisted that current production was limited; they could not supply a glossy ground that would work with distemper head colors.

One avenue to explore, which consumed most of 1992, was having an American finishing company treat the wallpaper after production. Another strike-off on the distemper ground was  forwarded to finishing companies. Though improved, the treated paper still fell short by a wide margin. It was not possible to add sheen to the ground without at the same time robbing the design colors of their flat finish. And, the hand-brushed ground still had a rough quality totally lacking in the original. After several more exchanges, Zuber agreed to strike off the design on a ground supplied by a third party, with a view to printing the entire run on a contract ground. With this encouraging news the search was on.

Guy Evans, reproduction fabric supplier, responded that a distemper ground could be made and polished in England, but the width was a sticking point—the rails and tables to accommodate the 25.75” width were no longer used. Norman Gibbon, manager for Sanderson, confirmed this and said that Sanderson did not use polished grounds. Their printers insisted that a relatively soft ground was needed to take the distemper colors.

Bernard Jacqué at the Musée du Papier Peint wrote back that in France, too, the polishing process had been abandoned. However, he pointed in a new direction. He told us that in East Germany, they were still using turn-of-the-century factory methods. He supplied the name of a West German wallpaper consultant, Lutz J. Walter of Stuttgart. My German is not perfect, and Walter’s English was not much better. Despite this, we were soon faxing and phoning. He'd already supplied custom blockprints on polished grounds for the restoration of Friedrich Schiller's house in Weimar, and forwarded samples to be tested by New York State conservations labs. The weight and texture were acceptable, and if the coating could be increased and smoothed a bit more, we would be in business.

But, Walter reported that German grounds are only 22 inches wide. Back to Jacqué. After some negotiation a French ground was located in the correct width. A test piece was sent for polishing to East Germany and forwarded to Zuber. A strike-off was sent stateside for examination and test hanging. The strike-off was a success. 
Next: a small disaster. The first 1000 meters had been polished wrongly; they were shaded! It's a credit to Walter’s professionalism that the printing was halted; he went back to square one. The next shipment was satisfactory and was sent to Zuber, arriving safely in May, 1994. By the end of the year it was at the house, ready for hanging.

6. newly papered hallway, 1995

It’s almost anticlimactic to say that the installation went smoothly. An acidfree liner and archival pastes were used, and the engineering of the pattern was duplicated with help from historic photos. It's interesting that the original installers at Lorenzo and at Poltimore House, though separated by an ocean and around twenty years, chose a nearly identical ceiling line (see photo 2). The satin ground and original blocks and printing methods at Lorenzo ensure that the present installation bears a close resemblance to the hallway as shown in the historic photos from the early 20th century. 

You would think that that would be the end of the story. Yet, oddly enough, I kept running into this pattern. Now hold onto your hats, the journey gets a little dicey ahead. It even includes a wartime escape by an international man of mystery! Below is yet another iteration of the design, this one from around 1918:

7. Plate XXVI, Pheasant and Larch from“Decorative Textiles...”, Hunter.

Note the caption: “Originated in America and printed in England . . .” The mystery as to how this design could possibly originate in America (when we already know that it was registered in France in 1871) and how on earth England got involved is explained by George Leland Hunter’s nearby text:

“Today in the United States, on account of labour conditions, the block printing of textiles is impracticable. Nevertheless, we have block prints (Plates XXVI and XXVII) in both new and old designs, which, though printed in England, were originated in New York by Harry Wearne, head of the ancient Zuber works at Rixheim in the heart of the war zone, from which Mr. Wearne, who is an English citizen, escaped into Switzerland just as the British ultimatum to Germany expired. Mr. Wearne, whose American connexions have been close for many years, and who has passed much of his time here, has now taken up his residence permanently in the United States and may now be able here to exercise as important an influence as Morris did in England during the later nineteenth century.”

So there you have it.  Although it's certainly stretching a point to give the design an American provenance, it's clearly more than just a wallpaper design (a point previously made in the Diament advertisement). This brings up some interesting questions: Which came first, the A and B wallpaper widths, each 25.75”, or the full 52” or so linen version? How far back do these versions go? Who designed this thing, anyway?

Happily, there is a resolution.

Following our voluminous correspondence about the wallpaper versions, Jocelyn Hemming wrote to 
Philippe Fabry, curator at the Musée du Papier Peint, asking if he could help. He could. After consulting the Zuber archives, he responded as follows: 

Dear Madam,

The Zuber wallpaper n° 6872 is a block printed wallpaper of the collection 1871-1872.

Le livre de gravure donne les indications suivantes :

"Cret(onne) Steinb(ach) K(oechlin) Mélèze & faisans
2 hauteurs sur 25 pouces – 4 m(ains) 8 planches

Dessin d'E(ugène) Ehrm(ann) 

To summarize: "Larch and Pheasants", a design for fabric and wallpaper by Eugène Ehrmann; the fabric printed by Steinbach, Koechlin, and Co., the wallpaper printed by Zuber.

It’s a great thing after all this time to make the connection with the well-known designer Ehrmann, whose work appears in El Dorado. Don’t forget, the hooded pheasant from "Larch and Pheasants" also appears in El Dorado. By the way, Ehrmann’s initials, too, appear in that scenic, along with those of his co-designers Fuchs and Zipélius on some nearby stonework (but reversed; if you hold a mirror next to the wallpaper, the initials magically appear). It seems beyond question that with that maneuver the French crossed a line of some sort!

8. ad for Steinbach, Koechlin and Co.
The archival newspaper reference above to the company of Steinbach-Koechlin and to a “cretonne” would seem to add to the likelihood that this pattern was available from the start as a 52” fabric. According to this ad in the New York Evening Post, this Alsatian company was doing business abroad on March 6, 1872. The company dates from 1854 when Alfred Koechlin joined his father-in-law’s textile firm to create “Steinbach, Koechlin & Cie.” 

If Harry Wearne did have blocks carved for a fabric version in the early 20th century, it seems that his effort must count as a revival. So ends the tale of our birds of a feather. They certainly covered a lot of ground!

9. The hallway at Lorenzo


Some of this article is based on a special issue of Wallpaper Reproduction News, V. 6, No. 4 (Oct. 1995); Barbara Bartlett should be applauded for her continued stewardship of the house. Thanks are due Barry Blanchard and James Yates for helping me during the installation, and to Bernard Jacqué for his assistance in finding materials and technology for the reproduction. 

To Poltimore House: much success!

For a map of the two large land tracts in New York (Holland Purchase and Gorham-Phelps Purchase), see this link:

Lutz J. Walter is still making reproduction wallpapers in Germany:

Photo Credits: 1. green document extant at Poltimore Houe: courtesy of Ricky Apps, Friends of Poltimore House; 2. Library at Poltimore House about 1912: courtesy of Poltimore House Trust; 3. Lorenzo, built 1807: courtesy of WallpaperScholar.Com; 4. Barry Blanchard trimming selvedge: courtesy of WallpaperScholar.Com; 5. page from an A. L. Diament & Co. portfolio: private collection;  6. newly papered hallway: courtesy of WallpaperScholar.Com; 7. Plate XXVI, Pheasant and Larch from “Decorative Textiles,” Hunter, pg. 349; 8. ad for Steinbach, Koechlin, and Co.: New York Post, March 6, 1872; 9. the hallway at Lorenzo: courtesy Walter Colley.  

Gilt Leather Installation: The Metlife Boardroom

1. “Dragon” pattern, contemporary gilded leather (Lutson Goudleder)


This post is about a leather installation for the Metlife Insurance Company which included the lamination, trimming and installation of over 400 panels of embossed, gilded and painted leather. But first, I want to mention the flurry of posts in the Wallpaper History Group on LinkedIn about leather, gilded and otherwise. Comparisons have been drawn in the discussion to paper, raised paper, Anaglypta, blown vinyl, and other materials.

The leather/paper connection is deep. During the first hundred years of wallpaper use (roughly 1650-1750) leather was a popular covering for walls among the upper classes, even if it was not often used floor-to-ceiling. Both materials were decorated, but paper could not be manhandled quite like leather, which was punched, prodded, pricked, and hammered to impress designs long before artisans embossed it from the other side to create a raised surface. Plate embossing began near Amsterdam around 1630. It’s not hard to appreciate the connection to flock wallpaper, which was being sold in quantity in London by 1700.

Leather and paper throughout this period were a sort of blank slate well-suited for carrying designs. Both were supple, porous, and reacted to moisture; joined together to form hangings; sometimes hung with a canvas underlayment; often nailed in place; and usually bordered. Even the size of the leather skins (20" x 27") was similar to the elephant size of paper. The repeating designs of early leather were circumscribed by the size of the skins. That was no handicap when they were hung on custom-built screens. When skins covered larger areas, the repeat patterns were often mirror-imaged. While effective, these rich designs had a curious inward-looking quality. It’s not surprising that many leather designs got larger and more graceful when they were transferred to wallpaper.

As the market for all types of "hangings" grew, some tradesmen and artisans exploited the opportunities. The exemplar of this tendency in the mid-18th century was Thomas Bromwich. Bromwich apprenticed to a leather worker and gained his freedom in 1737. He then became a linen draper, an upholder, a seller of screens and Chinese pictures, and wallpaper purveyor to the rich and famous. He was also Master of the Painter-Stainers’ Company in 1761. Yet, all this time he never quit the leather trade. He schooled twelve apprentices in leather craft.

There is much more about leather in Dr. Koldeweij's masterful article in the Furniture History journal: "Gilt Leather Hangings In Chinoiserie and Other Styles: An English Speciality." Furniture History 36 (2000): 61-101. I don't think this is online, though I would be glad to be wrong.

One of the interesting questions that came up on LinkedIn was this one: to what extent did late-19th century pattern designers for Anaglypta copy early leather patterns when creating new raised and gilt designs to decorate English and Scottish stately homes? While this connection has yet to be explored, it brings to mind that making an appealing wallpaper design is no easy thing. Patterns need to satisfy individual taste. At the same time, they need to be familiar, and this sense of decorum is especially important when furnishing traditional buildings. Some of this sense can be achieved by reaching back to late medieval and early modern design.

And on that note, here’s a link to an outstanding specimen of gilded leather, 1700 - 1730: prepare to be amazed, particularly with the close-up technology. Well-done, Rijksmuseum!

Rijksmuseum goudleer

It's wonderful that the close-ups show the stitching. This was necessary because of leather’s reaction to seasonal change. In the classic situation, a frame of wood was erected and a canvas underlayment stretched and tacked to insulate the work somewhat from the wall cavity. The leather was sewn together and tacked up on the frame, perhaps pulling a bit in a cross-like manner (I mean that the top center would probably have been tacked first, followed by bottom center, right center, left center, etc.) followed by finish tacking all the way round. Borders were applied to finish the installation, but now with gilt nails or other decorative fasteners for show. All of this was generally done in wet weather, so that the work would tighten up gradually as it dried. There are variations to the work (for example, we know that glue was sometimes used to adhere leather, especially when painting large areas was involved), but the method just outlined seems customary. The old techniques are hardly known here in the US outside of a museum context.

One interesting footnote is that around 1900 or so, these old techniques were revived in the US, by a Charles R. Yandell. It would be nice to know more about Mr. Yandell. I refer here to an article by Helen Henderson called “Wrought Leather,” found at this link:

"Wrought Leather", House and Garden, Vol. 4, pg. 227 (1903)

From Ms. Henderson’s article we learn that Yandell supplied leather for a house built by Charles Adams Platt for Francis T. Maxwell in Connecticut. I learned that Maxwell Court is still standing; it is now the home of the local Elk’s Club. The somewhat battered leather is still a point of pride.

What I found at the Elk’s Club was interesting. In the cleavages and missing spots we can still see the burlap stretched over an air space, the carpet tacks and gilt fasteners, the good-sized skins and narrower borders, too—and all of these things had been installed by Yandell in the old way, with needle, thread and hammer. The leather looked very old, but it was not possible to guess how the installation had been adapted. It seems likely that these sets of leather, like the better-known collections of Henry Marquand, had been imported from a gentleman’s club or smoking room in Europe. And before that, they probably came from a different country altogether, and who could guess their age? For all these reasons, they captured my attention.

But, I had a more practical reason to be attentive: business. Some time since I had worked with Frederic Poppe (Lutson Goudleder) on one of his jobs in the States, and Frederic’s company had been asked to replicate leather for an installation for the Metlife company in New York City. The US supplier for the project was Belfry Historic (at that time Classic Revivals).

The Lutson company is based in southern France, though Poppe and his wife, Lut, are from Belgium. At the time I visited Maxwell Court, I was gathering information for an alternate proposal to hang the new leather which had just been ordered from the Lutson workshops.  

The project was gigantic. It consisted of dismantling the executive boardroom at One Madison Avenue, and re-establishing it in mid-town (this was actually the second removal of the boardroom, but more about that in a minute). The boardroom consisted largely of French-polished mahogany woodwork bristling with detail and an equally elaborate gilded ceiling divided into perhaps a dozen deep coffers. All of this fine material was disassembled and transported to the penthouse floor of the former Pan Am building which sits atop Grand Central Station. 

2. removing ceiling, 2004
The view from the top of the building is dizzying. Floor-to-ceiling windows show Park Avenue to the north, and, in the distance, Central Park. The opposite view looks directly down into the 140-foot wide canyon of Park Avenue South and away toward the bay and the Statue of Liberty. The other features in the reconstituted room are: a great slab of a table which seats perhaps two dozen. Lining the walls are about the same number of gilt-framed oils of deceased and rather dour C.E.O.’s. The effect: Valhalla (the Insurance Division).

Now, about that first removal......

The headquarters of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company was built in 1893. In 1909 the Tower was added; it’s now known as the Metlife Tower. We know from a 1914 company history (link below) that the boardroom was on the second floor of the home office adjacent to the new tower. In all probability that was its original location. The Metlife Company seems always to have put some effort into their building programs. The Metlife Tower (constructed in 1909) is 700 feet tall and modeled after the campanile at St. Mark’s Square in Venice. The Tower was the tallest building in the world, but only for a few years. The north building at One Madison, across the park, was supposed to be 100 stories tall, and thus would have easily recaptured the title, but construction ceased at the 29th floor during the Depression.

On pp. 79 and 81 of the company history are photos of the boardroom, showing leather, gilt ceiling and carved woodwork. The writers carefully point out that the furnishings are magnificent and yet surprisingly cost-effective: “It is a splendid room, 26 x 36, trimmed in richly carved Santo Domingo mahogany, with a monumental mantel designed after one in the Chateau de Villeroy. Its walls are covered with leather, and the ceiling, which is of ornamental plaster, is faced with gold-leaf—in the end most economical in cost, for age improves it and it will never need any attention or repair.”

The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (booklet, 1914)

This statement proved not entirely true because when the original Home office was demolished, around 1960, the boardroom ceiling, fireplace, and woodwork was disassembled, carted across a Madison Square Park, and reassembled on the eleventh floor of the north building at One Madison Avenue. And there it stayed until the second removal in 2004. I visited One Madison just before the second removal. The room was buzzing with workers taking photos and scaled shop drawings in anticipation of putting it all back together.

Part of the contract involved stripping the existing leather. The leather that was installed directly to the walls during the 60’s was a reproduction and replaced the original set of leather visible in the photos from 1914. 

In an odd coincidence, another executive room decorated in leather, also that of a major insurance company, also in New York, but belonging to the president of the New York Life Insurance Company, appears in Helen Henderson’s 1903 article (referred to above) on page 233. There it's stated that Charles Yandell created the leather on the walls. The photo is so poor and the historic record so vague that it’s not possible to know if this rendition was sewn or put directly to the wall. Around this time there were several successful New York insurance companies known as the Big Three (Metropolitan was the Fourth). They had much in common: opulent headquarters, leather-clad boardrooms, and financial scandals—a byway we will not pursue here.

Now, let’s get back to the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company boardroom, which, as you remember, started life in 1893 or so, was removed to the upper stories of the north building (One Madison) around 1960, and was moved again in 2004-05 to Grand Central. During the visits it was interesting to see that the 60s installation had been centered on each good-sized wall space, so that mismatches appeared almost exclusively in corners. No doubt this was done to respect the grand nature of the woodwork, fireplace and door designs. For the replication, as in the 60s installation, it was planned to use mirror-images and double-cuts to bring the panels together. The “kill points” (mismatches) were reserved for corners, for the most part.

3. bay area, 60s installation

One of the persistent criticisms of wallpaper is that it erases architectural lines within the room, substituting a “flood of ornament” for a proper attention to boundaries. That seems a little unfair. Sometimes a flood of ornament is just what the lines of the room call for. But here, the leather pattern needed to be centered within prominent spaces, not so much because it was leather, but because of its symmetrical design. This quote is drawn from the alternate proposal:

“The previous installers used the center point of every significant horizontal space as a central axis. They followed this axis up and continued the match, working toward the center of the door and window headers. At the center point of the doors and windows they brought the patterns together. In almost every instance this resulted in a unique but symmetrical shape in the center of the architectural element. Because the pattern lends itself to such creative shaping, there is no jarring mismatch in the existing patterns on the wall. Nor is there a likelihood of noticeable mismatches in the new installation for the same reason. Shop drawings using acetates and pencil sketches are supplied with this bid which show the proposed location and numbers of panels.”

Site visits to One Madison confirmed that the leather installed in the 60s had sustained such damage that removal and reinstallation were not feasible. The 60s leather had been put directly to the wall with clay-based adhesives, which at that time were becoming the standard for oilcloth and a fresh new product—solid vinyl wallcoverings. The plywood under the leather had shifted often, producing stress cracks and voids; surface damage from UV, cleaning agents, oxidation and the like had taken a toll. This explains why a reproduction had been commissioned from Lutson, who would use traditional embossing, gilding and coloring techniques to create the new leather.

4. stripping: two full panel heights over lower border

The 60s installation featured a 12” high border on top, three rows of panels each 52” high x 36” wide, and a bottom border of 12” in height, adding up to a total of 180” over a high dado of about 5 feet. However, the fabrication by Lutson would use smaller designs to make up each panel. 
5. full panel, 60s installation
This resulted in many quarter-panels, each of which needed to be trimmed out and assembled to replicate the earlier installation. The border, too, was to be split into two panels, each 12” high x 18” wide, rather than the 60s version of 36” wide x 12” high. This produced a panel count of over 400, each destined to play a part.

Potential movement of the substrate was addressed by specifying marine birch plywood fastened into concrete with plenty of metal countersinking under a wooden block support system. The channels between wood panels would be finished with plywood splines glued in and sanded smooth, and patched and sanded to form a continuous surface.

The specifications for the leather installation took many hours of testing. A low-moisture system was settled on. The birch would be primed with two coats of an acrylic urethane. This would be followed by rigorous sanding with 80 grit and vacuuming. The surface would be topcoated with an acrylic wallcovering primer. A polymuslin (synthetic close-knit lightweight cloth) would be adhered to the wall in large widths. The adhesive would be a strippable machine clay. The polymuslin would then be topcoated with more acrylic wallcovering primer.

Testing showed that a clay and polymuslin lamination system  worked well for stabilizing the leather panels. In other words, each embossed, gilded and painted panel was laminated in the US with a slightly larger piece of polymuslin using minimal amounts of starch/polymer adhesive. The panels were allowed to dry thoroughly. Blotters were interleaved for additional reduction of moisture. Trimming followed.

We found that trimming the leather on large sheets of plate glass with brassbound straightedges, framer’s squares and heavy-duty Olfa knives gave the best results. During testing the expansion and contraction of the leather became a matter of some study. The panels waxed and waned for many reasons: because they were freshly fabricated and painted; because of the lamination (which introduced moisture); and because of the change in climate from France to Boston to New York. As a control test batches were measured down to the 16th and even to the 32nd of an inch. The changes were written down and tabulated.

6. installation at One Madison, removed in 2004

An initial calibration of tape measures was important, because head trimmer Barry Blanchard and I worked at two testing sites some two hundred miles apart with two shipments of leather. By far the most interesting discovery was that expansion and contraction was intrinsic to each small panel of leather and not just a result of  fabrication or lamination. The variation was significant—enough to throw off the installation plan. Clearly, although some pre-trimming was possible, the majority of trimming should take place on site.

For the installation, lasers on various levels of the scaffold were set up; these projected a cross-haired full-wall grid. The quarter and half-panel trim sizes were adjusted as the full panels were completed on the wall. In this way the design was controlled as it moved up and down the wall. There was no tolerance, but there was an escape route. If need be, a panel could be shaved a bit on the wall. This option came in handy.

I should not close without saluting the members of the installation team who helped me carry out this interesting and challenging assignment, all of whom are skilled professional paperhangers: Barry Blanchard, Jim Yates, Eileen Carroll, Lynne Parker, and Anthony Russo. John Buscemi at Classic Revivals (now Belfry Historic), the US supplier, made the trans-Atlantic dealings, which are always difficult, much more tolerable. Another essential part of the team, especially in the testing phases, was the leather conservator, Alexandra Allardt.

7. installation at Grand Central, 2005


Links and credits:

Alexandra Allardt has a conservation practice in Newport, Rhode Island, Artcare Resources:

Link to a more scientific version of this article, written by Alex and I for the North American Textile Conference: Merging the 21st Century into a Gilded Age Fortune 500 Boardroom

Belfry Historic (Beacon, NY) is the US supplier of the gilded leather. 

Lutson, producer of the goudleder (gilded leather):

Rijks Museum

“Wrought Leather” by Helen Henderson (House and Garden), 1903.

“The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company”, booklet, 1914:

Photo Credits: 1. “Dragon” pattern, contemporary gilded leather (Lutson Goudleder): courtesy Frederic Poppe; 2. removing ceiling, 2004: courtesy of; 3. centered pattern, 60’s installation: courtesy of WallpaperScholar.Com; 4. stripping: two full panel heights over lower border: courtesy of 5. full panel, 60’s material: courtesy of WallpaperScholar.Com; quarter-panel design, cropped from 60’s material: courtesy of WallpaperScholar.Com; 6. installation at One Madison, removed in 2004: courtesy of WallpaperScholar.Com; 7. installation at Grand Central, 2005: courtesy of WallpaperScholar.Com.

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