Zuber's Paysage Italien: When Restoration Isn't Possible
Zuber’s Paysage Italien had been installed in the 1920s in the entry hall of a historic house outside Hartford, CT. Originally the house was owned by the Cheney brothers who also owned a nearby silk mill in the late 19th and early 20th century.
At some point, the house suffered a fire and also a flood which damaged both the wallpaper and the walls behind the paper. New owners sought to repair the walls and restore this antique paper from the early 20th century. The paper was discolored in some places and coming loose from the wall in other places, both of which are problems that can often be repaired, but this paper had not been installed in such a way that the panels could be removed intact.
Nevertheless, the owners contacted a restoration agent who tried to restore the paper in place, but that didn’t allow for complete repair of the walls behind the paper and at the end of the process, the paper had degraded even further and the walls had fallen into very bad condition.
At this point, John Nalewaja came onto the project and determined that the only option was complete removal of the paper and installation of new paper, again because the original paper from the 1920s had not been installed with the proper backing materials. New sets of Paysage Italien were secured from Zuber.
Prior to the restoration of the walls, Jim Francis inspected the antique paper to determine if any panels at all could be rescued, but found that while there were a few large pieces, it was unlikely that whole panels could be saved. This was a shame as the original paper was offered in a colorway that Zuber no longer produced. John and Jim discussed the situation with the homeowner and the homeowners indicated they were interested in anything that might be salvageable, so John took the largest fragments of paper back to his studio and undertook the arduous process of delaminating the paper to preserve any sections that could be rescued and reused.
After John and his assistants completed the preservation process, the small sections of the antique Italien could be installed on boards, which could then be displayed in a way to suggest the original installation.
Meanwhile, the trim in the room was restored and repainted and the walls were restored and then prepped for the new installation. When the room had been completed prepped, John and his assistants installed the new version of Zuber’s Paysage Italien.
Fortunately, although the paper wasn’t available in its original colorway, because Zuber still uses the original woodblocks carved in 1912, the image was reproduced in exactly the same and the new grisaille paper has a very similar look to the original paper. Working with photographs of the space, Jim Francis laid out an installation plan that mimicked the original plan, so that the space feels like a newly refreshed version of the original. This time the paper was installed in such a wall that it is now removable for repairs if needed, or for reuse in another space, as requested. Remarkably, John was able to save and mount more than a dozen fragments of this lovely antique paper which pleased the owners very much.
Even in instances where the original paper cannot be reinstalled, it might be possible that some sections can be rescued and enjoyed for many years to come.