Gulf Station Wallpaper project

Description

In 2015, The Grimwade Centre conservators treated ten samples of wallpaper taken from the Gulf Station homestead in Yarra Glen, Victoria. The conservation treatment was funded by the Copland Foundation.

The Gulf Station homestead was established in the 1840s and is managed by the National Trust of Australia (Victoria). It is of both architectural and historical significance to the State of Victoria and was occupied by the same family for over one hundred years. Over its lifetime the walls of the homestead were covered with many different layers of wallpaper. The samples treated were removed from the dining room and one of the bedrooms in the homestead during restoration work in 2010.

The aim of the conservation treatment was to clean, separate and rehouse the wallpaper samples, making them available for study. Another aim of the treatment was to reveal manufacturers marks, as these could assist in determining the age and origin of the wallpapers.

Condition

Each sample consisted of multiple layers of wallpaper adhered on top of each other, backed with hessian and cotton textiles. Many of the upper wallpaper layers were coated in yellow house paint, concealing the design below. All of the samples had localised staining, surface dirt and accretions. There were losses, tears and insect damage to some; and several were distorted or cockled. The visible media on the wallpaper samples appeared to be in fair condition. There was some fading and discolouration, as well as brittle and friable areas. The condition of concealed media and paper layers was unknown.

Treatment

1. Dry Cleaning

Each sample was brush-vacuumed to remove surface dirt and accretions.

2. Backing Removal

The hessian and cotton backings were peeled away, then washed and pressed.

3. Separating the Layers

Most layers could be separated by applying water to the surface with a brush, then using a steamer and tool, such as a septum elevator, to ease apart the layers. Other samples were soaked first in water and then steamed apart.

4. Washing

The majority of the separated wallpaper fragments were washed in a water bath to reduce discoloration and remove adhesive residues. Fragile wallpapers and those with sensitive media were washed on damp blotters to provide support and avoid media disruption.

5. Lining

Once clean and dry the wallpapers were lined using a lightweight Japanese tissue that enabled any markings on the verso to still be clearly seen.

The lining was necessary to give the fragile, and often brittle, papers extra support. See Figure 8.

6. Inlaying

The separated layers from the most representative samples were inlaid onto archival Western paper using Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste. Borders, friezes and patches were hinged or pasted in their original locations. The inlaying enabled the recto and verso of each wallpaper design to be viewed, without direct handling. It also facilitated the re-housing, as each design was now set into a standard-size sheet of secondary paper, ready for binding.

7. Binding

The inlaid wallpaper designs were bound into two volumes; one for the dining room and one for the bedroom. To maintain the historic integrity of the wallpapers, they were carefully displayed in their original order and location within a given sample. Blank sheets of inlay paper were inserted between each sample set, to show where one sample finished and another began.

Outcomes

The wallpapers are now at a stage where they can be viewed safely; they have been strengthened from the washing and lining and are displayed in beautiful handcrafted folders, covered with Brunswick Green book-cloth to reflect the colours of the logo of the National Trust of Australia, with gold-tooled labels (Figures 9 and 10).

Dining Room

Among the samples from the Dining Room, 17 different wallpaper designs were found during the treatment. A printed title, ‘The Anthemion Design’ and an accompanying monogram were uncovered along the selvedge edge of a green and white paper. When separating one of the layers, a number of very small fragments of wallpaper were found adhered to the hessian and fabric that had been closest to the wall. These are likely to have been among the earliest wallpapers hung at the homestead.

Bedroom

Four different wallpaper designs were uncovered after separating the samples from the bedroom. Interestingly, the top wallpaper layers were often covered with gift-wrapping paper, newspaper and notebook paper (Figure 6). This appeared to have been done to cover losses prior to painting the wall. Registration marks were found on three of the wallpaper fragments after separation, however no manufacturers marks were revealed.

This project was supported by funding from the Copland Foundation

Treatment stages

Figure 1: Before treatment, Gulf Station Wallpaper, sample one

Sample one prior to layer removal.

Figure 2: After treatment, Gulf Station Wallpaper, sample one

Detail of sample one with manufacturers markings revealed.

Figure 3: Before treatment, Gulf Station Wallpaper, sample six

Sample six prior to layer removal.

Figure 4: After treatment, Gulf Station Wallpaper, sample six

Detail of sample six, wallpaper with border and fragment hinged above (layers eight & nine).

Figure 5: After treatment, Gulf Station Wallpaper, sample six

Detail of sample six, wallpaper with border hinged above (layers five & six).

Figure 6: After treatment, Gulf Station Wallpaper, sample three

Detail of Christmas wrapping paper used as a patch.

Figure 7: During treatment

Paper Conservator separating adhered wallpaper layers.

Figure 8: During treatment

Paper Conservator lining a fragment of wallpaper.

Figure 9: After treatment

Post-bound volume containing wallpapers from the dining room.

Figure 10: After treatment

Sample six after treatment and binding (layers three and four).