A look inside a cupboard in Castletown reveals layers of wallpaper going back to the mid-eighteenth century.
The timber panelled walls of the room known as Lady Kildare’s Room on the first floor of Castletown, County Kildare, have recently been painted in ‘Aerial Tint’, a soft but fresh blue colour, providing an upbeat backdrop for a collection of portrait miniatures and other paintings on permanent loan from the Irish Georgian Society. The colour used on the same panelling in the mid-eighteenth century might have been the French grey shade still on the woodwork in Louisa Conolly’s Bedroom on the same floor – a more muted colour altogether. The reason why some of Castletown’s early-eighteenth century panelling – or wainscotting – has never been repainted lies in the change in taste towards wallpaper during the 1740s and 50s, when the only practical way to paper the uneven surfaces of a panelled room was to nail a tightly stretched linen or hessian cloth across the walls. In Castletown several rooms preserved these cloth linings until the 1960s, when most were removed and discarded as part of a return to what was then perceived as a more authentic eighteenth century look. It is likely that some of these contained layers of paper decoration going back to the time of Louisa Conolly or even before.
All was not lost, however. In Lady Kildare’s Room the earliest wallpaper and the three subsequent patterns used in the room have survived on the walls inside a built-in cupboard beside the fireplace. It seems that until the 1830s, various paper hangers at work in the room were instructed to paper inside the cupboard, but from then on a coat of paint was considered sufficient. The existence of the papers was discovered several years ago, but it is only now that the decision has been taken to remove all the material lining the cupboard, separate the layers of wallpaper and re-install them in a way that makes the sequence of decoration visible. The result presents visitors with something akin to the growth rings of the house.
The delicate task of separating the papers, lining them with linen and mounting them on stretchers was undertaken by paper conservator Ros Devitt. Two weeks ago the stretchers arrived in Castletown and – after a moment’s anxiety as to whether the largest one would fit through the door of the cupboard – were installed.
The first and earliest paper in the cupboard is printed with a floral trail pattern of a type which would have been known in the eighteenth century as a ‘chintz’ pattern. Based on the patterns used on imported Indian cottons, chintz papers were regularly advertised by Dublin paper stainers (as wallpaper printers were known) from around 1750, and the many examples or fragments which have been found in Ireland show that these papers were highly fashionable.
Like most other examples, the paper in Lady Kildare’s Room was made by printing the outlines of the stems and leaves in black with a wooden block onto plain off-white paper, and then adding colours with the aid of brushes and stencils. The colours used in this case were blue, yellow and pink, and the design has been given added sophistication by the inclusion of a background pattern formed of tiny ‘pin-dots’, made by driving brass pins into the surface of the printing block ( a process known as ‘picotage’). Produced more than half a century before the invention of paper-making machinery, the pattern is printed onto rolls of hand-made sheets, joined edge-to-edge before printing.
Floral trail and chintz-style patterns are difficult to date, as they were produced throughout the eighteenth century. The pin-dot background pattern of the Castletown chintz paper does not help to narrow the date range of this paper, as the technique is found in papers as early as the 1680s.
A number of examples similar to this pattern in English collections have been given dates from the 1740s to the 1780s.
Two floral trail patterns with pin dots in the Victoria and Albert Museum come from a room in St Edmund Hall, Oxford (above), and are given a date of circa 1740 in the museum catalogue. The outline of the leaf at the top edge of the lower fragment is similar to the leaves in the Castletown Paper.
Also in the V and A collection, a floral trail wallpaper without pin dots from Uppark, Sussex (above) has obvious similarities to the Castletown paper. This one is given a date range in the catalogue of 1750-80.
This brief survey of comparative examples shows that the Castletown chintz paper could have been in place in the 1740s. This would mean that it was hung during the the life of Speaker Conolly’s widow Katherine, or during the brief period when the house was occupied from 1752-4 by his nephew William Conolly, his wife Anne and their children. An account dated 1749 for flock wallpaper bought by William (then residing in Leixlip Castle) from the Dublin paper stainer Bernard Messink survives among the Castletown papers, so we know at least that he was not averse to buying wallpaper. On William’s death in 1754 the family moved to England, and Castletown remained unoccupied until the arrival of Louisa and Tom Conolly in 1759.
Conservation architect Cáit ní Cheallacháin sent photos recently of two wallpapers found in an eighteenth century shop building in Fethard, County Tipperary. The papers were in the residential part of the building on the first floor, and one of them – a particularly striking example using the irisé or ‘rainbow’ technique – is extensively preserved on a thin timber partition. This discovery adds to a growing number of papers which have previously been found in similar commercial buildings through Ireland, and broadens our knowledge of the spread of wallpaper use beyond the walls of the ‘big house’, city terrace or urban villa. The material culture of the ‘middling’ people – shopkeepers, strong farmers, etc – is largely unexplored territory, lying between the well-mapped landscape of the upper classes and the collectable vernacular furniture of the rural population.
O’Shea’s in Burke Street, Fethard, boasts a fine carved timber shopfront, with classical detailing including Corinthian columns. The capitals of these are described in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage as being ‘remarkably faithful to the Corinthian order of ancient Rome, complete with corner helices, abacus, astragal, fleuron and three rows of acanthus leaves.’ Clearly, there was no messing around with the classical orders in eighteenth century Fethard.
The creation of the shopfront of O’Shea’s is given a date range of 1750-90 in the NIAH, and the rainbow wallpaper dates from the 1830s or 40s, suggesting that the level of prosperity and taste which went into the construction of the building continued for one or two generations. As yet, no information has come to light about who the first occupants were. The O’Shea family, for whom the building is now named, were there since at least 1901.
The wallpaper is pasted directly onto the heavy timber boards which make the partition. The pattern of broad stripes of leafy, vaguely rococo scrollwork alternating with narrower stripes distantly reminiscent of the Greek honeysuckle motif, is block-printed in red and purple against a background of blue and white stripes which shade into each other – this is the ‘rainbow’ effect, which is how such patterns were described at the time. The technique was invented by Michel Spoerlin in 1819 in the French region of Alsace, and was widely used in France to create dazzling colour effects for high-end interiors – an example of such a French paper survives in the drawing room at Ballindoolin, County Kildare – before gradually being adopted by more workaday wallpaper printers in England and Ireland. In 1836 there were 46 licensed wallpaper manufacturers in Ireland – the majority of these were small operations with one or two printing tables, producing just such wallpapers as this one for the middle to lower end of the market, while only a small handful of Dublin firms had the resources to compete at the top end of the market with fashionable products from London or Paris. 1836 also saw the abolition of the duty on wallpaper, making it more affordable and encouraging its spread.
The lack of sophistication in both the design and print quality of this paper makes it absolutely representative of this period of the Irish wallpaper trade The simplified adoption of high-end motifs and slightly slap-dash execution of the printing are qualities which I personally find utterly endearing, and which remind me of the classically-derived country furniture produced in rural or small-town Ireland, which has been so expertly researched and published by Claudia Kinmonth. Like time capsules, wallpapers can lie hidden for generations before re-emerging into the light of day to give us a vivid glimpse of how our ancestors lived. Not too long ago this partition would have been ripped out and put in a skip without a moment’s thought – now, thanks to architects like Cáit and owners who appreciate the historical value of their properties, there is less danger of losing such treasures.
Recently I was contacted by historian Nicholas Dunne-Lynch and genealogist Cécile Déjardin, who wrote regarding a previous post on this site: ‘Who was Smith – the mysterious designer of ‘Belvedere’?’ In this I had gathered what I could find about the career of James Smith,up to the point of his release from Kilmainham Gaol as a State Prisoner, and his exile to France in 1802. But this, it seems, was only the starting point of a long and distinguished career of military service in the Irish Legion of the French Army, under both Napoleon and the restored Bourbon monarchy. Nicholas and Cécile have most generously supplied the following biography of Smith, gleaned from their own research into French military and other archives, including many of Smith’s letters.
Proprietor of a calico-printing enterprise at Ryevale near Leixlip, County Kildare, in 1796, James Smith joined the movement dedicated to the establishment of an Irish republic, which had been founded in the wake of the French Revolution of 1789. Since the movement was proscribed by the government, as a member of the local branch of Society of United Irishmen Smith was committing ‘a treasonable practice,’ even High Treason, a crime punishable by death, in fact, by being hung, drawn and quartered under a law that had been on the statute books since the 14th Century and had survived the arrival of the so-called Age of Enlightenment.
Smith was deeply involved in the rebellion of 1798, probably with the north Kildare rebels under William Aylmer of Painstown and Hugh Ware of Rathcoffey, in a campaign of ‘fugitive warfare’ against British rule. His rank is reported to have been that of captain, a considerable responsibility, and he may have taken part in the battle of Ovidstown Hill, five kilometres south-west of Kilcock, County Kildare, on 19 June 1798, in which the rebels under Aylmer and Ware were defeated by government forces. The engagement was an unsuccessful departure from the ‘fugitive’ tactics of the Kildare rebels and, among the leaders, Smith was subsequently listed on a proclamation by Lord Castlereagh, Chief Secretary for Ireland, ordering the prominent rebels to surrender unconditionally on pain of being attainted traitors, which would surely have attracted the death penalty.
On 21 July 1798, the rebel leaders, including Aylmer, Ware, John Reilly of Kilcock and Smith, surrendered at Odlum’s Mill, Osberstown, County Kildare, on the banks of the Grand Canal, between Naas and Sallins. All were imprisoned at Kilmainham Gaol except Aylmer, who was allowed to go into exile.
The State Prisoners, as they were known, at Kilmainham as well as another group of State Prisoners, including Arthur O’Connor and Thomas Addis Emmet, incarcerated at Fort George in Scotland, were held until the Treaty of Amiens (1802-1803) was negotiated under the Addington administration in London. The Fort George group was exiled immediately to France, but the Kilmainham men were allowed to remain at liberty in Ireland for a time. On 16 July 1802, Smith married Julianne Marie Burke at Saint Andrew’s Catholic parish church in the city of Dublin. From French documents, we know that James was 30 and Juliane 27. The newly-weds then went into exile in France via London. It appears that Smith was able to liquidate his business in Leixlip and the couple brought with them the equivalent of 130 thousand French francs. At Rouen, Smith writes that they established ‘un filiature de cotton’ or cotton spinning enterprise, but some sources say it was ‘a manufactory of Indiennes , or printed chintz fabrics.’ Among the Irish exiles at Rouen was William Putnam McCabe of Belfast (1776-1821), industrialist and an organizer of the United Irishmen in Ireland up to 1798, who set up a cotton mill.
On 5 March 1803, Marguerite, the eldest Smith child, was born, while the family was living at rue de Darnétal, Saint Hilaire, a faubourg of Rouen, at which address the enterprise was also operating. Reports that James returned to Ireland in 1803 to participate in the Emmet conspiracy and rebellion of 1803 are not supported by any documents discovered in French archives and, in view of his family and business commitments, are hardly credible. Smith is not mentioned by Miles Byrne as being present in Ireland in 1803, and any report that he travelled to County Down with Thomas Russell just before the outbreak of rebellion in Dublin on 23 July 1803 is not supported, since Miles Byrne writes that James Hope (1764-1847), a Presbyterian and a native of County Antrim, accompanied Russell. Smith, a Catholic and native of Dublin, was unlikely to have been suitable. His place would have been among the rebels in his home area, as with Michael Quigley of Rathcoffey, who did return to from enforced exile to organize the Kildare rebels.
In the spring of 1805, the Smith’s first son, Edmond (or Edward) Julian, was born and, in April 1806, their second daughter, Marie-Catherine, arrived and the family are given as residing at 26, rue du Mont, where the manufactory is also located. In November 1807, Jean-Thomas was born, and the occupation of James is given as ‘machinist,’ residing at no 52, rue de Sotteville, where their third daughter, Adélaïde, arrived in December 1808. Smith is given as ‘proprietor of a mill,’ at the same address, at which the family were still residing when, on 24 April 1810, twin daughters Désirée and Julie were born. In June 1810, Jacques was born, and, one day, would emulate his father and be awarded the Legion of Honour.
In 1811, the Rouen business collapsed, reportedly because of the Peninsular War (1808-1814), during which many other Irish-owned enterprises in Rouen failed, and Smith reports the ‘major events that afflicted that branch of commerce.’ Failed enterprises included that of McCabe and the Glashin brothers, John (21) and Daniel (20), originally from Tipperary. Philip Long, a leading conspirator in the rebellion of 1803 who financed Miles Byrne’s escape from Dublin, ‘lost a good deal of money in the concern,’ which may suggest the Irish entrepreneurs at Rouen were bound together in associated enterprises.
In difficult circumstances, with a large family, James Smith wrote to Minister for War Henri Clarke, whose family was of Irish descent, and was directed to the Irish Legion, by that time le 3ème Régiment étranger (irlandais) based at Bois-le-Duc (‘s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands) where he was commissioned lieutenant on 11 November 1812. Smith may have been encouraged by the earlier acceptance of the Glashin brothers into the same regiment under the auspices of the minister. In a letter to Clarke, Smith declares his life too short to enable him to express his gratitude.
The regiment was commanded by a County Dublin man, United Irishman and former professor at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, William Lawless, and among the officers were former Kildare rebels Hugh Ware, chef de bataillon, and captains John Reilly of Kilcock and Bryan McDermott of Hodgestown, all of whom had been Smith’s fellow State Prisoners at Kilmainham. Thus, he was sure of a warm welcome and amiable comradeship. In 1813, yet another son was born to the Smiths, William Henry. In all, they had nine children, but only five survived of which according to Smith four were boys. So four girls did not reach the age of ten, infant mortality being a sad feature of life.
Smith was fortunate not to have been selected to march when Lawless led the 1st and 2nd battalions of the Irish Regiment to the Saxon Campaign in February 1813. After the debacle in Russia in 1812, France was threatened with invasion by Russian and Prussian forces, the French resisting stubbornly in Saxony, the younger Glashin becoming a prisoner of war at Siebeneichen (Dębowy Gaj), in Prussian-occupied Silesia (Poland today) on 21 August 1813.
In a desperate engagement on the river Bober at Plagwitz (Plakowice) on 29 August, the two Irish battalions were all but annihilated, less than 120 surviving out of the 1600 that had set out. After another debacle for Napoleon at Leipzig in October, the British invaded the Low Countries with the object of capturing the strategic port of Antwerp, the Irish regiment being deployed in defence, and it is likely that Smith was present at Merksem, just outside Antwerp, in engagements against the British and Prussians, and possibly other clashes during the siege from mid-January until early May, almost a month after Napoleon had abdicated, the redoubtable Carnot in command refusing to capitulate.
Garrisoned at Montreuil-sur-Mer (Pas-de-Calais) from November 1814, the Irish regiment was renamed the 7ème Régiment étranger in May 1815, a month before Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, by yet another native of Dublin, the duke of Wellington, and the French Empire finally came to an end. During the year, James Smith is listed as ‘in reserve,’ the regiment now having a surplus of officers transferred from disbanded regiments. On 29 September, the Irish regiment was itself disbanded and Smith returned to civilian life on half-pay. The Smiths continued to reside at Montreuil in reduced circumstances with their five surviving children and were still living there in 1817 when Smith was made a French citizen by decree of King Louis XVIII.
A year later, he was recalled to active service as lieutenant in the Corsican Legion, which became the 10th Light Infantry (10è Léger) in 1821, garrisoned at Saint-Martin-de-Ré, Île de Ré, off La Rochelle, western France. In 1823, he was promoted captain. The French army had been greatly reduced in 1815 and Smith was extremely fortunate to have been recalled. Several Irish Legion officers, including Hugh Ware, never served again.
The “July Revolution” of 1830 overthrew the reactionary senior house of Bourbon, three of the Smith boys participating. Louis-Philippe, from the junior and liberal branch of the Bourbons, ascended the throne. In October, Smith was still stationed at La Rochelle, his records showing him to be an excellent officer. At 58 and possibly the oldest captain in active service, he had been applying for the staff since 1821, but, by November 1830, he was still unable to gain acceptance. He is listed as one of 17 captains in his regiment but 14th in order of seniority. In 1833, with the 10è Léger, he transferred to the town of Draguignan (Var, Alpes-Côte d’Azur, south-eastern France). At that stage, there were two barracks in the town, la caserne des Minimes and that of St François, but it is not clear in which Smith was based.
On 22 September of that year, at Embrun (Hautes-Alpes) Smith was made a chevalier of la Légion d’Honneur, the French equivalent of a knighthood, and, now 61, he transferred to the 11th Company of Veteran Fusiliers, and in 1839, a captain at 67, he was in command of the 3rd Company of Veteran Fusiliers. The family address in Paris was 20, rue du Bouloi, in the 1st Arrondissement today. Juliane died in 1851, but no date of death of James has been discovered. The couple had been married almost 48 years. Since James served internally in France, it is likely and very fortunate that his wife was present at every garrison, and their children in the early days, so family life was not disrupted.
Regretfully, of course, James Smith was unable to fulfil his early promise as a creative manufacturer. Once he had entered military service at the age of 40, however, he showed remarkable flexibility and exceptional longevity in that career.
Ormond Quay is central to an area of the Dublin where many of city’s wallpaper makers lived and worked in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. James Boswell’s wallpaper printing works on Bachelors Walk was the largest in the city in the mid 1800s, but numerous much smaller enterprises flourished or foundered in the streets and lanes north of the Liffey. Across the river, on Clarendon Street, the factory of Patrick Boylan produced wallpapers of the finest quality for the top end of the market.
The Ormond collection of seven patterns mixes high end design with homely charm – grandiose or simple, these papers have been selected and recreated from the best examples of the work of Dublin paper stainers during the trade’s heyday, the century before the 1860s. They are offered in both historic and contemporary colourways, and can also be custom coloured to the customer’s specification.
Carton, Clarendon, Bachelors Walk, Ormond Tabby and Ormond Herb are hand screen-printed in our County Leitrim studio. Perrin Stripe and Castletown Chintz are available as high quality digital prints on ‘paste the wall’ paper.
This elegantly composed damask pattern was used in different colourways in two bedrooms at Carton, County Kildare, the country seat of the Dukes of Leinster, as part of a remodelling by the architect Richard Morrison around 1820. The identity of the original maker is not known, but a tax stamp on the reverse confirms the pattern to be Irish, and it is likely that it came from either the Boylan or the Boswell factories. The pattern incorporates paired serpents, an often used motif in Regency decoration.
The original paper was supplied by the eminent Dublin wallpaper maker Patrick Boylan in 1819 for Castle Coole, the Earl of Belmore’s palatial residence in County Fermanagh, where it was hung in the state bedroom in preparation for an anticipated visit by the Prince Regent. The royal guest never arrived, but the paper, in crimson flock, still adorns the walls of the room today, nearly two hundred years after it left the Boylan’s Clarendon Street factory.
This four-colour damask was one of several registered for copyright in the year 1841 by James Boswell, who had opened Dublin’s most extensive and successful wallpaper factory on Bachelors Walk around 1805. The flowing lines and exotic plant motifs are characteristic of decoration and furnishings in the post-Regency period, before the advent of the florid naturalism popular in the early Victorian era.
Bachelors Walk, printed in the colourway of the sample registered in 1841, was used to decorate the two first-floor rooms of 18 Ormonde Quay, the current home of the Dublin Civic Trust, whose exemplary restoration has brought this historic merchant house on Dublin’s quays back to life, and who are generously hosting the launch of our two new collections in June 2019.
Background patterns imitating the appearance of watered silk (also known as moiré patterns) were much used to give an extra depth and richness to wallpapers in the nineteenth century. Ormond Tabby is simply the background of Bachelors Walk, without the main pattern, and offers a discreet but effective textural pattern, enhanced by the counterplay of matt ground and silk-sheen pattern.
Floral trail patterns influenced by imported Indian cottons were highly fashionable in eighteenth-century Ireland, generally being used in bedrooms and dressing rooms. This example, with stencilled colours, block-printed outlines and a fine pin-dot background pattern, was used in a bedroom in Castletown, County Kildare. It was almost certainly the work of one of the several wallpaper makers active in Dublin at the time, and must have been chosen by Louisa Connolly, who married Irish craftsmanship with European style in her transformation of Ireland’s first great Palladian house.
This two-colour stripe composed of floral motifs and delicate pin dots was registered in 1854 by Paul Perrin of Capel Street, who advertised ‘room paper manufactured with all the advantages of steam power’. It is one of the few machine printed patterns registered by Dublin paper stainers.
The original of this pattern was one of the first in Dublin to be produced on continuous roll paper – up until the mid 1830’s all wallpaper rolls were made from small sheets of hand-made paper joined together. Although cheaply produced at the time, the pattern has an enduring and endearing simple charm.
The Ormond Papers are printed to order, and will take up to four weeks to deliver. Prices below do not include delivery.
Other colourways are available – an online brochure showing all colourways will be available shortly.
Carton Damask: 10m x 53cm roll: Euro 120.00, hand screen printed
Clarendon: 10m x 53 cm roll: Euro 120.00, hand screen printed
Bachelors Walk: 10m x 50cm roll: Euro 200.00, hand screen printed
Ormond Tabby: 10m x 50cm roll: Euro 120.00, hand screen printed
Ormond Herb: 10m x 53cm roll: Euro 150.00, hand screen printed
Perrin Stripe: 10m x 52 cm roll: Euro 120.00, digital print
Castletown Floral: 10m x 52cm roll: Euro 120.00, digital print
Six months have slipped by since the last post, and they have been busy ones. We now have not one but two new collections of patterns, soon to be launched with an exhibition at number 18 Ormond Quay, Dublin, present home of the Dublin Civic Trust. The exhibition runs from Tuesday 11th to Saturday 15th June, 10.00 – 5.00.
Two heads are better than one, and I have been fortunate in coming across and enlisting the help of designer Christine Westcott of Westcott and Heaney, whose input into the World’s End Papers has been invaluable. With a fresh take on the creative possibilities and armed with the most up to date pattern design software, Christine has been able to resolve the issues I was having around converting the painterly images drawn from photographs of chinaware into motifs which could then be arranged into patterns.
In order to really preserve the hand-painted quality of the imagery a combination of digital editing and hand-drawn artwork proved to be the best approach. This is most true of the pattern Captain Delamain’s Ramble (named after the owner of the World’s End pottery), in which those inspiring landscape scenes are set within a trellis derived from some of the floral elements used on Irish delftware. The final version of the trellis was hand painted by Christine, while the scenes went through several stages of digital ‘painting’ and retouching before they had the right coherence and consistency.
The trellis is also available on its own, without the scenes, and named Mrs Bijar after Captain Delamain’s business partner and second wife Mary Bijar, who ran the pottery after Delamain’s death.
The other two patterns are China Warehouse and Delft Damask. China Warehouse is a collage of images and decorative text celebrating the many and varied themes and forms of Irish delftware. Here the patriotic motifs used on Irish commemorative ware are mixed together with the Oriental figures, animals, plants and buildings which the World’s End painters copied so successfully from imported Chinese porcelain.
In Delft Damask , inspired by the Dutch delftware which had such a strong influence on the World’s End potters, an exuberant floral arrangement in an elaborate architectural planter and stand is repeated to form a damask pattern of imposing scale (the paper is 70cm wide).
The wallpapers in the World’s End collection are digitally printed onto high quality paste-the-wall paper, making them easy to install.
They are printed to order, and will take up to four weeks to deliver. Prices below do not include delivery.
Other colourways are available – an online brochure showing all colourways will be available shortly.
Captain Delamain’s Ramble: 10m x 52 cm roll, Euro 120.00
Mrs Bijar: 10m x 52 cm roll, Euro 120.00
China Warehouse: 10m x 52 cm roll, Euro 120.00
Delft Damask: 10m x 70 cm roll, Euro 140.00
From the first time I saw examples of the blue and white earthenware made in Dublin’s World’s End pottery in the eighteenth century, I was inspired by the potential for using the motifs and images to make a wallpaper.
The publication of Peter Francis’ beautifully illustrated book on ‘Irish Delftware in Churchill House’ in 2017 rekindled my interest, and coincided with our decision to launch a new collection of wallpaper patterns in Spring 2019. The publishers very kindly made the images from the book available as a design source for this project. But how to turn a series of photographs of plates, jugs, bowls and platters into a wallpaper design?
Rather than simply present an arrangement of plates and other pieces as if they are real objects hanging on a wall, I wanted to lifts the motifs from the objects and draw them together into a repeat pattern that would present them in a new context.
The first thing was to select the motifs that had the most potential. Apart from the landscape vignettes (which seem recognisably Irish), there were images reinterpreted by the World’s End painters from imported Chinese wares – pagodas, oriental trees and birds and flowers. Then there the borders and geometric patterns used around the edges of plates. Even the makers’ marks seen on the bottom of the plates have a lovely calligraphic quality that could be used.
With image editing software it was relatively easy to eliminate the backgrounds from each photograph leaving only the blue painted brushstrokes of the motifs. This made it possible to arrange and rearrange motifs on the computer screen, to see how they might unite to form a pattern. There are endless possibilities, but from the start it was clear that this would be a fairly large-scale, narrative pattern.
Then come all sorts of technical questions about how to manipulate the images into a form suitable for printing. The close-up photographs from the book give every nuance of the painter’s hand, but for hand screen printing or digital printing an image has to go through a process of colour separation in order to control the colouring of the final product, especially if alternative colourways are to be produced. If this can be done by digitally editing the photos then it will help preserve all the painterly character of the original motifs in the finished wallpaper. If this doesn’t work we will have to hand draw each motif, tracing from the photos with a separate tracing for each shade.
Not sure yet how this is going to proceed, but hopefully it will be a few steps further on by the next blog post.
One of the illustrations by Dan Janota to my new collection of stories of the strange and supernatural:
“The Ghost-Rat of Wormwood Gate and other Stories”
The book is published in a limited edition of 200 copies.
Paperback, 108 pages with 4 illustrations
Price: Euro 10.00 plus postage
The Spaniard’s Ring
The Ghost-Rat of Wormwood Gate
The Return of Barney Duggan
Reflections in a Rococo Garden
The Church Tower
This is Your Karaoke Life
Click on the Paypal button below to purchase a copy….
‘They could see, suspended in the mirk some way below the surface, the soles of a pair of boots whose gentle, inanimate motion left no doubt that they were attached to the lifeless body of their owner.’
The past is a foreign country, it has been said – but are the natives friendly?
A malevolent rat from ancient Egypt takes up residence in a weaver’s home in eighteenth-century Dublin; a restless spirit is unleashed when a fourteenth-century church tower is restored; a holiday in Japan ends in a rather unusual karaoke parlour, and festivities end in fatalities in a rococo garden in Germany. When history crosses paths with the supernatural, there may be unfinished business to settle.
It isn’t often that I have to join a queue to see my own wallpaper, but this morning I did just that, standing in a line of expectant people waiting to enter the newly-restored Bewley’s Oriental Café on Grafton Street, Dublin, which has been closed since February 2015.
Bewley’s Grafton street café opened for the first time in 1927, the largest and most splendid of the family firm’s Dublin branches. (The first one, on Georges Street, opened in 1894.) The beautiful façade, embellished with gold and coloured mosaics, is one of Dublin’s most recognisable landmarks. Inside, the most striking decorative feature is the set of six large stained glass windows commissioned from the Irish artist Harry Clarke (1889-1931) in 1928, three years before his death. The jewel-like colours of Clarke’s fantastic birds and plants filter light into the back section of the café, adding greatly to the experience of enjoying coffee and traditional Irish tea brack in the high-backed, deeply-upholstered banquettes.
Wallpapers from several phases of redecoration were found during the renovation works, but the earliest of these, and the pattern which probably graced the walls when Bewley’s first opened its doors, is a large-scale, Japanese-themed design, block-printed in nine colours, with metallic bronze highlights. Enough of the paper was found to provide the full repeat of the pattern, although it had evidently been through a fire, and was darkened by smoke and soot, making it very hard to discern the details. Happily, the clients and their architects were enthusiastic enough about the find to commission a copy of the paper for the restored café. Too fragile to remove from the wall, the only option was to take photographs and work from these in recreating the design, which comprises a Japanese landscape of rocks, pines, water, a temple, birds and elegantly-dressed women. With a repeat length of over one metre, this was a large and detailed piece of artwork.
After months of squinting at enhanced images, we were finally able to print some samples of the pattern. Clever visualisation software also allowed a virtual view of the planned interior to be papered with the pattern, and the results looked encouraging. At the client’s suggestion different colourings and backgrounds were investigated. The original paper was printed on a cream ground, but for the new reproduction a dark green, inspired by the Harry Clarke windows, was proposed.
Lengthy research in wallpaper history sources, collections and on-line archives had produced nothing to confirm where and by whom the paper was originally made, although the likelihood was that it had come from one of the top English companies of the day. This was confirmed when ‘our’ pattern appeared among the illustrations to an article on the historic wallpaper collection at Temple Newsam House in Yorkshire, published in the Wallpaper History Review in late 2016. Perhaps not surprisingly, the pattern had been produced by the renowned firm of Arthur Sanderson and Sons (who continue their proud tradition of wallpaper and textile manufacture to this day) and bears the name ‘Coromandel’. Further research might, it is hoped, tell us when the paper was first printed and the name of the designer. The colourway of the Temple Newsam sample is possibly the same as the fragments found in Bewley’s.
Of the available reproduction methods, the one chosen was a combination of digital and hand screen printing. A fully block-printed or screen-printed copy would have been sumptuous, but was ruled out by budgeting and scheduling constraints (not to mention the risk of the all-too-human printer running out of stamina producing the large number of rolls required). In the present state of the technology it is not possible to print metallic colours digitally, but screen printing by hand over a nine-colour digital print provided a fitting and beautiful new version of the historic pattern.
This now forms part of an interior which, no one could deny, recaptures the essence of Bewley’s in former times. The essential ingredients – the tall polished wainscotting and ‘hat shelves’, the banquettes with their plush burgundy upholstery, the stained glass, the black and white livery of the friendly staff – have been enhanced to great effect by the careful choice of white marble floors, Kilkenny marble counters and many other details. The overwhelming feedback in the media and from listening to those around me on my visit, is that the good old days are back again on Grafton Street.
For over two centuries, Japan’s only point of contact with European nations was the tiny man-made island of Dejima. Lying only a few metres offshore in Nagasaki harbour, Dejima was connected to the mainland by a heavily guarded bridge, whose purpose was to control the passage of those goods permitted by the Japanese authorities. Anything else – including the Dutch traders who inhabited the island, or their Christian religion in the form of bibles or religious artefacts – had to stay on the island, except for officially sanctioned delegations.
Dejima still exists, although it has long since become land-locked by Nagasaki’s expansion into land reclaimed from the harbour, and is now surrounded by skyscrapers and busy freeways. The buildings and gardens have been restored to their appearance in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, giving the visitor a fascinating insight into the living conditions of the Dutch traders. The most senior of these was the Captain, whose quarters were by far the most spacious and well-appointed on the island. The first-floor suite includes a drawing room and dining room furnished with European furniture, the walls and ceilings covered with block-printed papers. These are not imported European wallpapers, however, but examples of the Japanese craft of karakami: older than wallpaper and still practised today in at least two Kyoto workshops.
Most commonly, karakami are used to cover sliding doors or fusuma, which are constructed as a wooden lattice covered with up to six layers of washi (Japanese paper) beneath the decorated kara-kami surface. These are seen in tea houses, temples and traditional style dwellings. Karakami are also used like wallpaper to cover entire walls, though not usually as extensively as at Dejima. Generally they are used sparingly, in keeping with the ‘less-is-more’ aesthetic of Japanese interiors. Karakami also have smaller-scale applications such as bookbinding, and recently the patterns have found their way onto a variety of modern artefacts using less traditional printing technologies.
In Kyoto’s Takatsuji-Dori I was welcomed to the showroom of the Maruni Company by gallery manager Ayaka Satoh, who showed me many examples of their products and some historic printing blocks dating from the Edo period. Unfortunately their workshop was closed for annual leave at the time of my visit, however a fascinating video of the process is available on their web-site:
To a western student of wallpaper printing, the remarkable feature of karakami is that, while the materials and techniques are in many ways recognisable, the process appears to be an ‘upside down’ version of European block-printing (although in view of karakami’s antiquity it would probably be more correct to say that the Western technique is inverted.) In karakami, the block is stationary and face-up. It is inked using a colour sieve, but the sieve is held in the hand and dabbed onto the printing surface. Gentle hand pressure is all that is required to transfer the pattern to the paper, and repeats are printed by repositioning the block under the paper, rather than the other way round.
Like other Japanese crafts, karakami seems to have undergone very little technical development since its inception. This is made very clear in a documentary about Kenkichi Senda, the 11th generation of his family to practice the craft in the Karacho workshop in Kyoto, established in the seventeenth century. The responsibility of maintaining this awe-inspiring pedigree drew him to leave a conventional 20th-century career to take over the mantle of the family business, which has now been passed on to his daughter Aiko Senda and her husband Toto Akihiko. You can watch the documentary on You Tube:
Takeshi Nishimura is a second-generation master of the art of cutting katagama – the paper stencils used in the pattern-dyeing of kimono cloth. His workshop occupies the ground floor of the house where he was born in Kyoto’s Nakagyo-ku ward, and where he learned the craft from his father, who established the business in 1938. The house is compact and traditional in style, with tatami floors and a house-altar in one corner. Takeshi works at a low table, using the tools he inherited, the only modern equipment being a highly-efficient LED light mat.
Resist-dyeing of textiles in Japan dates back to the Nara period (710-784 A.D.), while the earliest use of paper stencils is recorded in the twelfth century. The art of paper stencil-cutting flowered in the Momoyama and Edo periods (1568 – 1868), when garments for men and women patterned using this technique became increasingly fashionable among all classes of society.
During my visit, which lasted two hours, Takeshi very generously explained in detail the techniques of his craft, showed me the tools used in the very intricate cutting of the stencils, and allowed me to try my hand at cutting a katagama. The stencil paper itself is brown and opaque, and consists of three layers of washi (Japanese paper) bonded together. The cutting tools fall into two categories – those for cutting dots and those for cutting lines. The dot cutters are tubular blades which produce holes varying from a fraction of a millimetre up to around 2-3 mm. The cutter is pressed gently into the paper and rotated – the waste paper is collected within the tube and can be ejected through a larger hole in the shaft. In skilled hands a line of dots can be made quite rapidly. Dots of varying diameter are combined to produce variety of line and effects of shading.
Line cutters consist of single-bladed tools (resembling small scalpels) and twin-blade tools. The twin-blade tools are generally used for cutting lines of even thickness, but some are also designed to produced swelling lines (rather like an italic pen), useful for creating small leaf shapes. Takeshi demonstrated both types of tool by cutting a simple flower motif in a small sheet of stencil paper.
Although katagama can be used to produce multi-coloured patterns, all of the stencils Takeshi makes are for single-colour designs. A great many are small motifs fitting onto stencils which are roughly A4 in size, but towards the end of my visit Takeshi produced some of his larger stencils – mostly abstract or geometric patterns, but also some figurative work – including a magnificient portrait of his cat, created almost entirely with dots.
Takeshi’s skill lies purely in stencil-cutting – the stencils he produces are passed on to other workshops where silk is dyed and patterned. The processes involved in the various styles of dyeing known collectively as yuzen are too complex and various to even attempt to explore here – as I realised after seeing the exhibits and videos on display at the Kyoto Museum of Handicrafts. Suffice to say that the kimonos on display cover the full gamut of styles from austerely minimalist black and white to full-colour exercises in floral art.
The catalogue of the 2014 exhibition ‘Katagama Style: Paper Stencils and Japonisme’ (Tokyo, Kyoto, Mei 2014) illustrates the influence of katagama on western designers at the end of nineteenth-century. Wallpapers designed by Walter Crane, Lewis Foreman Day and Christopher Dresser are shown alongside the Japanese stencilled patterns which they drew on. Takeshi continues this tradition of east-west inspiration and collaboration in working with Paris designers to create products decorated in the katagama style – such as leather wallets, phone cases, i-pad covers and lamp shades hand-patterned with his designs.