In the 1950s, Al Hirschfeld produced a limited edition, silk screened wallpaper in both a line drawing, similar to his signature artwork and also a full color version. The multi-panel scene includes caricatures of mid-century celebrities, ranging from Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe to Eleanor Roosevelt and Albert Einstein.
The full cast of characters includes: George Bernard Shaw, Harpo Marx, Tallulah Bankhead, Louis Armstrong, W.C. Fields, Eddie Cantor, Benny Goodman, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Elsa Maxwell, Marlene Dietrich, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Eleanor Roosevelt, Joan Crawford, Arturo Toscanini, Marilyn Monroe, Pablo Picasso, Jimmy Durante, Groucho Marx, Danny Kay, Clark Gable, Buster Keaton, Marcel Marceau, Edward G. Robinson, Adolphe Menjou, Albert Einstein, Frank Sinatra, and Charlie Chaplin.
For his own home, Hirschfeld selected the black and white version of the scene. (Black and white except for the cocktails!) Hirschfeld added only one bit of original artwork to his mural, a hand-colored flower held by Charlie Chaplin.
Only a few examples of this vintage wallpaper are known to exist* and the installation in Hirschfeld’s own home, with a bit of his own original artwork was definitely worth preserving for years to come.
Hirschfeld’s ‘Pink Townhouse’ was sold after his death and later owners planned a major renovation that included the mural wall. They contacted John Nalewaja for help removing and restoring this charming vintage wallpaper. John and Jim Francis inspected the site and determined that unfortunately, the paper had not been installed in such a way that it could be removed, but it was possible to protect the paper during renovation and then restore the paper in place afterward.
John’s assistants installed multi-layered protection for the mural and throughout the renovation process, Jim periodically re-inspected the site to be sure that their system continued to protect Hirschfeld’s mural.
Jim also supervised the carpenters’ removal of molding and wainscoting that abutted the mural.
The mural came through the renovation successfully and restoration could begin.
Over the years, this wallpaper had grown to be very delicate. It had suffered damage and discoloration in some spots and had also come loose from the wall in many places. John and his assistants first resecured the paper to the walls and repaired missing paper, using a paper as close to the original as possible.
Once the paper had been secured and repaired, John’s artist was able to inpaint any damages, including Charlie Chaplin’s flower, the only piece of original artwork in this installation. This was probably the most seriously damaged section of the mural, requiring painstaking restoration.
The artist also touched up any discolorations bringing the charm and freshness back to this lovely vintage wallpaper.