Vol. 1, No. 2: Wallpaper and America

Volume 1, Number 2 of The WALLPAPER is an essay titled “Wallpaper and America,” a critique of the standard text in the field of historical wallpaper Wallpaper In America (1980) by Catherine Lynn. 

Below are excerpts.


Lynn’s Wallpaper In America
WIA had the blessings of the art and design establishment of its day. But it also bears the unmistakable stamp of Catherine Lynn, trained as an art historian and schooled in the intricacies of wallpaper through her decade-long curation of the 10,000-item Cooper-Hewitt Museum wallpaper collection.

The Foreword by Charles Van Ravenswaay sets the tone. He quotes A. J. Downing that wallpaper should be chosen based on its “fitness and truthfulness” for the job at hand. The question of how truthful wallpaper can be runs through WIA. The forms that this truthfulness takes are also important. As we will see, the qualities of a given wallpaper - whether it is distinctive or imitative, for example - matter a great deal to Lynn.

WIA is essentially an aesthetic exercise. The cutoff date of 1914 was chosen by Lynn for two reasons specific to design: first, wallpaper by that date had been ignored by the “students and practitioners of contemporary architecture and design” for at least 20 years. Second, with the onset of World War I “the major movements in nineteenth-century design that affected wallpaper came to an end.” This comment is directed at the constant tug of war between French floral naturalism and British reform styles during the last half of the nineteenth century. 

Her Introduction addresses many of the ambiguities of wallpaper. Wallpaper is for rich and poor; it is machine-made and also hand-made. It is neither décoration fixe (part of the architecture), nor décoration mobile (movables). As a result of this in-between status, historical wallpaper is not often the subject of private collections. Yet, it is impossible to ignore if we want an accurate record of how people furnished their homes.....

The essay can be accessed here:

The WALLPAPER Vol. 1, No. 2