Sunday, May 2, 2010

Walllpaper's Beginnings


What to 'do' on vacation? Since my suggestion of farniente was voted down, we took off for a butterfly farm in Hunawihr not too far from our hotel. In the hot, humid, greenhouse like atmosphere live hundreds of butterflies flying freely, landing on the many flowers in the enclosure, and sometimes on the visitors themselves and living their ten days of lifespan. Apparently in nature, where there are predators, their life span is even shorter.

In  the gift shop of the butterfly house I picked up a guide to the area and saw that there is a Museum of
Wallpaper which was created by the very old and famous house of Zuber. So on the last day of April we started out for Rixheim, a rather non-descript village except for the Zuber premises, which also houses the Hotel de Ville (!)

The old machines are on display and the history of the manufacture of 'papier peint' (wallpaper) is explained on the museum's first floor. We watched an excellent short film about how wallpaper is made, and learned that the patterns from the 1700's and 1800's can still be reproduced because Zuber has kept all the woodblocks, all the stencils. It's a painstaking and unforgiving process, the quintessence of artisanal work.

I hurried through til the third floor where the panoramic wallpaper is on display. Here in well-lit rooms are displayed scenes from history, from exotic places like Brazil and India, and even an American wallpaper that Jacqueline Kennedy chose for the White House that depicts soldiers at West Point, the Boston Harbor, (illustrated, right) and Niagara Falls. (And, theoretically, this wallpaper can be reproduced today, but I guess if you have to ask how much it would cost, you can't afford it.)

 Top: detail of wallpaper called "Les vues d'Amérique du Nord," the port of Boston. From a drawing of Jean-Julien Deltil. Manufacture Zuber & Cie, 1834, reproduced in the XX century.

Bottom:  "Fleur Second Empire," repeating motif, unknown manufacture (French) circa 1860.

No comments: