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Conserving the Zuber Wallpaper at Willow Wall
 
Etherington Conservation Center  worked on a project to conserve the Zuber wallpaper at Willow Wall.

Background|
 

Willow Wall is an antebellum mansion located in Old Fields, Hardy County, West Virginia. According to local legend, it took seven years to build this enormous late-Georgian plantation house. The house features magnificent hand-carved woodwork and 43 mortise and tenon, six-over-six windows. Almost all of the window panes are original - surprising since this was the site of the Civil War Battle of Moorefield, which was fought on August 7, 1864.

The panoramic Zuber wallpaper, which is found in the large main entryway, was printed around 1830. The company, still in business today, has been producing wallpaper for over 200 years.

Zuber wallpaper is painstakingly printed over hand painted backgrounds from carved wooden blocks. Some panoramas require over 1000 blocks and use more that 200 colors. No new blocks have been produced for over 100 years and the French government recently declared Zuber's blocks to be historic monuments. Zuber's wallpapers are known for their meticulous attention to detail, shading and coloration.


The Project
 

Upon arriving at Willow Wall, the condition of the wallpaper was assessed. It was immediately clear that this would be a major undertaking.  There was a great deal of obvious damage and one of the panels was missing completely. Much of the original adhesive had long since released and the paper had been re-adhered using whatever was available at the time - rubber cement, white glue and a variety of other harmful adhesives. There was also considerable damage that had been caused by insects and by people - intentionally and unintentionally - over the years.
 

 
The first step was to remove the paper, taking care not to further damage the paper or the walls. In areas of strong adhesion, where rubber cement or modern synthetic adhesives were used, the adhesive was either split or lifted off the plaster.  In several areas, the surface of the paper was flaking away and had to be consolidated with the underlying paper before the panel could be removed from the wall.
 

    

 
Back in the lab, each panel is surface cleaned to remove dirt and old adhesive.
 

 
Lining panels are made using Belgian linen and heavyweight Japanese paper. Fragments are arranged, one section at a time, upside down on a sheet of polyester film. The panel is then dampened with a mister, carefully flipped, aligned and placed in position on the lining panel. Once the section is in place the polyester film is removed.
 

 
Losses in the original detail are inpainted with a watercolor wash and the finished panel is ready to be placed back on the wall.
 

 
 


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