A National Historic Landmark open to the public since 1912
History always has secrets to reveal, even in an historic house museum that’s more than 100 years old! Recently, 250-year-old wallpaper was discovered behind a false wall in a closet in the Moffatt-Ladd House during an historic restoration project of the museum’s Parlor. The museum’s director/curator, Dr. Barbara M. Ward explained, “We had finished the bulk of the plaster restoration work in the main room, and we had just begun assessing work in the room’s west closet when we found bits of wallpaper that were hidden behind the recently removed shelves. After I had a chance to really look in the closet, we noticed a small false wall in the corner. We removed the boards and a whole patchwork of 18th and 19th century wallpaper was uncovered that we had never seen before! I was thrilled to see this paper that perhaps hadn’t seen the light of day since probably the 1840s.” What made this discovery perhaps more surprising is that the Moffatt-Ladd House & Garden has been a museum since 1912. The staff and volunteers thought this house had told all of its secrets. Museum Properties Chairman, Sherry Cullimore added, “History is not stagnant. It’s really amazing that we are still discovering things in the house, even after all this time!”
Upon finding this unknown wallpaper, Dr. Ward called on historic wallpaper expert, Richard Nylander who dropped everything to come over and take a look. “There are at least 2 different, complimentary patterns in a red and grey scheme from the 18th century, but the pieces are cut up to fit into the void behind the false wall and so the full pattern is broken up. There’s simply not enough there to determine the full repeat of either pattern. In all my years of research and study, I’ve never seen paper like this,” lamented Mr. Nylander. The museum is asking the public if they recognize this pattern to contact Dr. Barbara Ward at (603) 430-7968 or firstname.lastname@example.org. “We would love to know if anyone has seen this wallpaper anywhere, whether it’s on a wall, behind a built-in cupboard, used as a lining in an old trunk, or on the inside cover of a book. It could pop up anywhere!”
More funds are needed to complete the full 18th century restoration of the Parlor. In an effort to help with fundraising, the public is invited to a cocktail party on June 24, 2018, from 4-6pm. Tickets are $75 per person and all proceeds will benefit the Parlor Restoration Project. Food has been generously donated by The Oar House Restaurant, the Blue Mermaid, Portsmouth Gas Light Co, and the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown Portsmouth. Blue Mermaid will also have a bar set up and drinks are included in the ticket price. Chris Shelton of Mussey Associates, who recently conserved and restored the museum’s 18th century Chinese Chippendale suite of furniture, will be on hand to talk about his process. For more information or if you’re interested in supporting this important restoration project, please call the Moffatt-Ladd House at (603) 430-7968 or email email@example.com.
Wallpaper Discovered in Closet
Recently, we had an exciting discovery--18th century wallpaper that had been hidden behind a small false wall in a closet in the Parlor of the house for 200+ years!
As you may recall, we're in the middle of a long project to restore the Parlor to its 18th century appearance. We've been using 4 inventories from the family taken between 1768 and 1786, along with scholarly research and family information. Through paint research and analysis, we determined that the original color of the woodwork was a dark stone color. The room has been painted to match that color. A 1912 letter records a family memory that the walls were papered with “heavy velvet [flock] paper with red lines.” No traces of that wallpaper had been found in the room itself, but removal of shelves in one of the room's closets revealed an unexpected treasure trove of portions of two eighteenth century wallpapers and a narrow border! We were thrilled by the discovery, but it has led to more questions and not as many answers as we'd like.
Both patterns have large motifs in red flock and each has a different background pattern printed in white on gray. We are hoping someone will recognize one of these distinctive background patterns that might lead us to a larger example that can be reproduced. Please take a look at the pictures below and if you think you might be able to help, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or (603) 430-7968.
We have contacted wallpaper expert Richard Nylander (who is helping us on the project) and he has also sent out the word. We are in the process of preserving the wallpaper samples and afterward we'll determine how to best display the discovery for our visitors.
Restoration projects are always exciting and we can't wait to see what else pops up! Stay tuned!
Patchwork of 3 18th C wallpapers in the Moffatt-Ladd House Parlor Closet
Detail of cross-hatched grey and red paper
Detail of cross-hatched grey and red paper
Parlor Project Update Dec. 2017
The Parlor Project is in progress! Kate Shattuck has finished painting the woodwork according to the findings of the paint analysis done by Brian Powell, formerly of Building Conservation Associates, and Historic New England. We have been actively studying and researching throughout the process. Members of the committee, including Jane C. Nylander, Richard Nylander, Sherry Cullimore, Meredith Harding, Jennifer Evans, Barbara Ward, Gerald Ward, and Mary Waples, have closely inspected evidence for curtains and curtain hardware, and we are removing a core sample from one area to pinpoint how the paint evidence in the holes connects to the full stratigraphy.
Kate Shattuck has carefully removed layers of paint that obscured some of the carved details of the mantel surround, but we have left the full paint sequence in tact in most areas. The full beauty of the carving is now revealed!
The walls will be covered with red flocked wallpaper similar to that mentioned in a family reminiscence. The paper the committee has chosen is the surviving paper still on the walls of one front rooms of the John Wentworth House (built ca. 1760), now used as a conference room by Wentworth Senior Living, which owns the house. The blocks for the paper have been cut, and the colors selected, using evidence from the Wentworth wallpaper. The original vibrant colors of the paper are visible in small areas. The accompanying photo (below) shows the paper as it has darkened over the years, but the original vibrant colors of the paper are visible in small areas, and will be reproduced for the Moffatt-Ladd Parlor. The paper is being produced by Adelphi Paperhangings in Sharon Springs, New York, and will be ready for installation in the spring or summer of 2018.
There is still much more work to be done this winter. We are hoping to make a final determination on the floor treatment soon. Paint evidence suggests that the floor was originally unpainted. Because the floor has now been painted for more than 150 years, removing it presents a challenge. We know that we will be preserving sections of these paint layers, but how we will take the floor back to its original appearance is still under discussion. The early inventories show that there was a small "persia carpet" in the room in 1788 (from the designation in the inventory, we know that it was approximately 7-7 1/2 feet wide, and we believe the length was approximately 9 feet), and this will be an important feature of the room.
Barbara M. Ward, December 9, 2017
Flocked wallpaper from the Governor John Wentworth House, Portsmouth