Edwards Place- a restored mansion in Springfield, Illinois
Edwards Place is one of several historic properties in Springfield, Illinois, associated with Abraham Lincoln. Formerly the home of the Edwards family, its furnishings include a mid-nineteenth century settee on which the future president is said to have sat while courting Mary Todd, related by marriage to the Edwards family, who became the future president’s wife in 1842. Since 1913, the house has belonged to the Springfield Art Association, who began a major restoration in 2014, aimed at presenting the principal rooms as they were in the 1850s, a time when Lincoln was a regular visitor. We were brought in to the project by our U.S. partners Belfry Historic Consultants, and asked to reproduce two wallpapers which were discovered beneath modern drywall at an early stage of the project.
Although large pieces of each paper survived, their condition gave rise to difficulties when it came to understanding how the papers had originally looked. The more elaborate of the two patterns combined trophies and floral swags contained within moiré-effect stripes, highlighted with gold details, but the block-printed colours had faded so much that the outlines of the pattern could only be seen by transmitted light – against a window or on a light-box. One tiny strip of overlapped margin, which had remained protected from discolouration, gave some indication that the pattern had been printed in shades of grey distemper against a satin-finish ground in pale duck-egg. We produced a range of samples around this theme – both digital and screen-printed – before the clients settled on one which seemed most appropriate. Gratifyingly, the subsequent discovery of another large piece of this paper in better condition showed that our suggestions and the clients’ choice had been surprisingly accurate.
The second paper was a simpler affair – a two-colour damask, block-printed in off-white on a beige ground and with the kind of intense ultramarine accents which were hugely popular in the 1850s and which seem utterly bizarre to modern taste. This too has a satin ground – so much easier to make in these days of gloss-finish water-based acrylics than in the days of distemper, when the only way to produce a shiny surface was to buff the painted paper laboriously with talc and a smooth stone. The contrast between a pattern in matt distemper (or acrylic) and a satin ground is pleasing, and was widely exploited in the early to mid-nineteenth century. Perhaps the effect is due for a come-back in these days of ubiquitous matt-ness and ‘chalk-finish’ paints.
Also, for the sitting room at Edwards Place, we supplied our ‘Edenderry’ pattern of oak leaves and acorns set in stripes. This is an Irish pattern of the 1830s, so slightly earlier than the restored décor of the other rooms – nevertheless it fits in very well.
For more on Edwards Place and its restoration, see