A new conservation lining for historic wallpapers

A new conservation lining for historic wallpapers
A new conservation lining for historic wallpapers
Philip Meredith, Mark Sandiford, Phillippa Mapes
Abstract
In recent times the appreciation of historic wallpapers has
greatly increased. Consequently, the financial commitment
to their conservation and preservation has also noticeably
developed, particularly for in situ projects. The conservation of the wallpapers themselves is well reported, but the
wall preparation undertaken to receive the newly conserved
wallpaper is frequently neglected. Here, the historic technique of supporting wallpapers using a stretched textile is
analysed and improvements to the system are suggested. As
is often the case in conservation, similar problems and their
potential solutions can be found in other disciplines, both
related and unrelated, and in international co-operation.
Using a lining textile used in oil paintings conservation and
a selection of linings used in Japanese mounting, an improved
support system for historic wallpapers is suggested.
Zusammenfassung
Seit einiger Zeit hat die Wertschätzung von historischen Tapeten stark zugenommen. Infolgedessen hat sich auch die
finanzielle Unterstützung für ihre Restaurierung und Konservierung, besonders für In-situ-Projekte, spürbar entwikkelt. Die Restaurierung der Tapeten selbst ist gut dokumentiert, die Vorbereitung der Wände, auf welche die neu
restaurierten Tapeten montiert werden, wird jedoch meist
vernachlässigt. Hier wird die historische Montierung von
Tapeten auf einen aufgespannten, textilen Träger analysiert
und Verbesserungen dazu vorgeschlagen. Wie so oft können
ähnliche Problematiken und mögliche Lösungen in anderen
verwandten und nicht-verwandten Fachbereichen sowie in
der internationalen Zusammenarbeit gefunden werden. Ein
verbessertes Trägersystem für historische Tapeten unter Verwendung eines Doubliertextils aus der Gemälderestaurierung
und einer Auswahl von japanischen Kaschiermaterialien wird
vorgeschlagen.
Introduction
Historic linings for wallpapers can be either simple or complex preparations. All lining systems were intended to create
an improved surface on to which the wallpaper could be hung,
and to protect the wallpaper from the structure that it covered.
The type of wall surface usually dictates the type of lining
system; from a simple paper lining on a flat plaster wall, to a
textile stretched on battens and lined with paper over a bare
brick wall. The large numbers of wallpapers that have survived in situ from the eighteenth century, and a few from even
earlier are testimony to the success of these systems.
Often in larger houses, a stretched textile, usually a canvas type, was used to create a flat surface over unplastered
walls, (thereby saving the expense of plastering), and was
also used occasionally over a plastered wall to create an air
gap. The use of a textile as a support for valuable wallpapers also introduced the possibility of removal and re-hanging of the wallpaper, should the owner wish to move house
or change decoration. Removal and re-hanging was in fact
common practice, not only as a progression from tradition
of ‘portable’ textile wallhangings, but also because good
quality wallpapers were expensive to buy.
However, the high survival rate of historic wallpapers does
not mean that these historic systems can not and should not
be improved upon, particularly the more complex and problematical ones that utilise a stretched textile. As the characteristics of the wallpaper itself change with age, degradation
and consequent conservation, the function and specification
of the lining system should acknowledge and address these
changes. It could be argued that the historic textile lining
systems were ‘too successful’, in that their longevity allowed
(and caused) the wallpaper to be extensively damaged both
chemically and physically long before their own apparent
degradation caused them to be replaced.
Historic lining system utilising a stretched textile
For the purpose of this paper, we shall concentrate on the
more complex system that incorporates a stretched textile.
The wall surface to be covered could be bare brick, wooden
planking or even a simple wooden framework (known today
as studding). Wooden battens were fixed to the perimeters
of a brick or plastered wall; however, wooden walls usually
did not receive battens and therefore did not create an air
gap. In the latter case, the textile was directly against, although not deliberately adhered to the wall surface. Consequent adhesive applications during lining frequently adhered
random areas of the textile to the wall causing severe problems as the textile progressively lost tension.
The textile was first thoroughly washed to release the
weaving tension and allowed to dry. It would then be
stretched taught with the warp running vertically and attached
to the battens with upholsterer’s tacks. These were usually of
P re p r i n t f ro m t h e 9 t h I n t e r n a t i o n a l C o n g re s s o f I A D A , C o p e n h a g e n , A u g u s t 1 5 - 2 1 , 1 9 9 9 .
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iron which would corrode quickly although the use of copper
tacks has been known. Once stretched taught the canvas would
be coated with warm animal glue size. This performed three
functions: to further tighten the canvas as it shrinks when wet;
to fix the new tension on cooling and drying; and to provide
extra adhesive qualities when applying the subsequent lining
paper. This gave an extremely solid surface under high tension on to which a lining paper could be easily applied.
Prior to the availability of continuous, machine made paper the canvas was covered with a single layer of hand-made
sheets applied individually and at considerable expense. It
is only therefore, with the adoption of machine made paper
with its strong grain direction, that cross lining of the canvas
was introduced. This consisted of two linings, one applied
vertically and a second horizontally to equalise the tension
created by the first lining. The high survival rate of early
wallpapers is also partly due to the superior quality of the
hand-made linings over machine-made papers.
The application of the lining paper, whilst drying also increases
the tension of the lining system, as it is applied wet and expanded
with paste. The resulting surface is drum like, and the wallpaper
would be applied to this surface giving two or three layers of
paper applied to the originally taught and sized textile.
Historic system in action
In the natural household environment, the system is repeatedly
expanding and contracting as moisture is absorbed and desorbed.
If the source of moisture is from within the room the upper paper
layers will initially control the movement of the system, but if the
moisture is from the wall substrate the canvas and size will initially control the movement of the system.
This expansion and contraction of the laminate with an initial
differential rate within the laminate exerts considerable stress on
the adhesive layers between the laminate. This stress is compounded
by the differing directional responses of the paper and canvas. The
canvas reacts in a predominantly vertical direction as the warp holds
most of the tension. The lining paper, if hand-made, generally has
a bi-directional reaction. If the lining paper is machine-made and
hung vertically the paper will respond in a horizontal direction. A
cross lining would give a balanced reaction. A single horizontal
lining of machine-made paper would have a reaction direction similar to that of the canvas but not necessarily of the same proportions.
As the system ages, both individually and collectively, random areas of adhesive bonding between paper and canvas
weaken due to the repeated movement. This consequently releases some of the tension from the canvas that then begins to
sag progressively under the weight of the paper. This in turn
puts strain on the adjacent fixing points which releases yet more
tension and transfers strain to the surrounding areas. Once an
area of the wallpaper is delaminated from the canvas, and possibly the other paper layers, degradation of the paper itself is
more pronounced giving rise to further areas of differential reaction within the individual layers themselves.
In this way, the historic support system degrades in a progressive manner, eventually causing serious damage to the wallpaper it was intended to support, as little is noticeable until the
degradation is quite advanced.
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Development of the system
It is apparent, therefore, that a wall lining dependant on such high
tension, yet comprising organic materials whose characteristics
change relatively quickly with age and a fluctuating environment
does not provide a stable system. In developing a new method for
supporting historic wallpapers, the weaknesses of the traditional
system need to be identified and improved upon. However, it should
be acknowledged that the wallpaper often forms part of an historic
room setting and building, and as such a degree of historical correctness within the new system is appropriate. (See below).
The new system has to take into account that the environment
in which it functions will rarely be of museum standard. Therefore, the response of the linings to environmental fluctuations has
to be sympathetic to the reaction of the wallpaper in order to avoid
damage. The new system should also reveal damage should it
occur in extreme circumstances, allowing the problem to be noticed and rectified.
Textile
The central weakness of the old system lies in the choice of
textile that forms the foundation on to which the other layers
are based. Canvas, including high quality linen canvas always requires high tension in order to provide the initially
firm base on which to work. It is also inherently acidic as it
contains lignin which, over time, contributes to the degradation of the wallpaper [1].
The stretching of a textile to cover a wall surface has its
roots in the hanging of tapestries and textiles and as such is an
important technique in the context of a historic interior. The
type of finish for many interior walls was partially dictated by
the type of decoration intended to cover them. Therefore, this
should be viewed as an important characteristic of the room
to preserve. The installation of new boards or panels onto
which to install the wallpaper would change the context of the
room in which the paper is to hang.
An alternative textile that is light, strong, and chemically
and physically inert would correct the inherent weaknesses of
the canvas. Woven polyester fulfils these criteria and has already been in use in other conservation disciplines for many
years now. Because of its construction, air flow is possible
through the weave of the textile. It is also possible to obtain
polyester in widths up to 5m to reduce the need for seams, and
with a napped surface to give an adhesive key for the subsequent layers.
In application, the polyester does not require the extreme
tension of a canvas, as it is simply hung hand-tight with no
need of a size to heighten and fix the tension. The consequent
application of paper provides the further adequate tightening
of the polyester. Non-rusting staples with a flat bar are used
to avoid cutting when fastening the polyester.
As the synthetic polyester textile does not absorb moisture, the bond formed when adhering the first lining paper
using a traditional starch paste is not as strong as that to a natural canvas. This however, is not necessarily problematical [2]
and can be countered to a greater extent by careful selection of
paper and slight modification of the adhesive. The addition of
5% v/v PVA to the wheat starch improves the bond, but more
importantly, the choice of a Japanese paper that fibrillates easily to allow fibres to be worked in to the weave of the textile
during application strengthens the bond [3].
Paper
Having a stable textile foundation successfully lined over all
with a base paper, the consequent linings and the linings of the
wallpaper itself must create a system sympathetic to the conserved wallpaper and its environment. For this purpose Japanese paper is an invaluable material. Accepted today amongst
Western conservators for its strength and longevity, it has been
used in Japan for centuries in the protection and preservation of
artworks and documents. Its relevance in the treatment of historic wallpapers is described below, with a short history of its
use, highlighting parallel problems of mounting large-scale paper objects.
Traditional Japanese paper supports
The use of Japanese paper as a lining support has evolved
over time into a sophisticated system for the mounting of both
flexible objects, such as hanging scrolls, hand scrolls, and rigid
or flat artworks, such as standing or folding screens, sliding
door screens and wall and ceiling paintings.
Linings and paper support systems for these artworks vary
according to the format, with quite different papers and pastes
being used for the flexible and the rigid systems. The techniques used for wall and ceiling paintings in Japan are of especial interest when considering options for treating large scale
Western wallpapers, as there are some areas of common concern. Furthermore, as traditional Japanese architecture and
interior decoration developed in response to the forces of the
elements, much can be learnt by Western conservators when
considering the environmental responses of wallpapers within
the Western historic interior.
In Japan, cold, dry winters contrasted with hot, humid summers leading to the development of buildings made of wood,
which would withstand earthquakes, could be opened up during the summer to let in light and circulate air, but closed up in
winter to provide some insulation and protection. The expansion and contraction rate of such wooden structures would
not follow that of paper. Rather than apply artworks directly
to the wall they were hung temporarily as hanging scrolls, or
in the case of paintings intended as a permanent feature of the
interior, supported by an elaborate multi-layered underlining
support system, known as shitabari.
Portable or movable elements, such as folding screens or sliding doors were given a support core consisting of a light but strong
wooden lattice. Over this were pasted eight or more layers of
paper in such a way as to provide pockets of air between layers
and a network of points of contact from the artwork on the outer
surface and the wooden core within. The layers of paper provided a buffer to protect the artwork from the wood and allowed a degree of expansion and contraction of the materials
without causing damage.
Another feature of the system was that the last layers were
designed not only to support the artwork but also to allow it to be
removed without difficulty if repairs or remounting were necessary. This system was, and still is in use today, not just for screens
and sliding doors, but also the drying boards, or karibari , used
by Japanese paper conservators, and more recently, Western paper conservators. Their construction has been documented [4]
and adapted in some cases by conservators working in the West.
Wall paintings and ceiling paintings in Japanese interiors were
treated similarly, with the exception that the lattice core was seldom used. Instead, the wooden planks of the bare wall or ceiling
were first pasted directly with paper and sometimes additional
strips over any gaps or joins for extra protection. This was followed by the mino-kake lining and the rest of the underlining
proceeded in the same way as for the panel-system shitabari.
The lattice-work and complete shitabari system has been used
for wallpaper in the West [5]. This system, however, is not always financially viable, or compatible in all locations or historic
interiors, for example where the fixing of a lattice core to the wall
would alter the architectural features of the room. Similarly, ethical questions may arise as to the use of a completely Oriental
system within the context of a Western historic interior. Nevertheless, the last layers of the shitabari system have provided some
inspiration for new directions in the treatment of wallpaper, working within the remit of the traditional Western stretched textile
support. Of particular interest is the ukekake layer, which can be
applied directly over the lined polyester described above.
The ukekake layer consists of quarter-sheets of Japanese paper, pasted along each edge to a depth of 3 to 5mm. The sheets
overlap by about one quarter of the height and width of each
sheet, the outermost having it’s exposed edges water-cut. When
two ukekake layers are used, the paper is turned ninety degrees
for equal distribution of grain direction. The artwork is then
pasted directly onto this, except in the case of a very large object, such as wallpaper, when a sealing layer is first applied,
again balancing the grain direction, ukeshibari. The ukekake
layers act as a kind of cushion between the surface beneath,
whether it is a traditional shitabari system or a layer of polyester. The network of pasted edges within the shitabari layer or
layers distribute the tension of the artwork over the whole surface, keeping it in contact with the support layer beneath, but
allowing for some movement, expansion and contraction.
To summarise, the new system comprises:
• Stretched, woven 100% polyester fixed with non-rusting
staples.
• First lining of Japanese paper adhered all over using wheat
starch/PVA, 10mm overlap.
•Ukekake (cushion) layer adhered at perimeters (3-5mm) of
quarter sheets, overlapping one quarter of the height and width
• Ukeshibari (sealing) layer adhered all over with wheat
starch, overlapping 3-5mm.
• Wallpaper lined once or possibly twice with Japanese paper.
The lining treatment described above has already been
used successfully in a number of projects in Europe, namely
for Chinese wallpaper panels at the Victoria and Albert Museum and on Chinese wallpapers in the historic interior at Oud
Amelisweerd, Holland and Woburn Abbey, England.
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Conclusion
Considering the infrequency, high monetary cost and disruption of a full-scale conservation treatment for historic wallpapers, it is essential that the wallpaper be replaced in situ with
the best possible, durable support. For conserved historic
wallpapers, particularly Chinese wallpapers (which are the
most common type to receive full conservation) this new system, or indeed the shitabari system, would appear to be the
most suitable to date. The polyester and cushion layer/s provide a departure from the reliance on high tension, and also a
tolerance within the laminate to accommodate movement
within the system in fluctuating environmental conditions.
Furthermore, as many wallpaper conservators prefer Japanese paper for the conservation re-lining of historic wallpapers, the techniques and materials used in the wall linings therefore provide a more compatible laminate. Finally, the cushion
layer also allows for reversibility; providing a level at which
the wallpaper could be released, removed and replaced without breaking down the whole system.
Acknowledgements
Thanks for ideas, encouragement and facilitation are due to:
S.R.A.L. Maastricht, particularly Nico van de Woude, and
Pauline Webber, Head of Paper Conservation, The Victoria
and Albert Museum, London.
Notes
1 Hackney, S. and Hedley, G. ‘Measurements of the ageing
of linen canvas’, Studies in Conservation, Vol. 26 (1981),
pp. 1-14.
2 Under extreme stress it is preferable that the bond between
textile and lining paper fails, thereby protecting the wallpaper.
3 Vanke, F. The Conservation of an Oversized Cartoon
by Ford Maddox Brown, unpublished thesis
Camberwell College of Arts (1994), p. 99.
4 Webber, P. Huxtable, M. ‘Karibari / the Japanese dryingboard’, The Paper Conservator, Vol. 9 (1985), pp. 54-60.
5 Woude, Nico van de. ‘The Conservation of Historic
Chinoiserie Interiors and Chinese Export Wallpapers
in the Netherlands’, Paper Conservation News, no. 85,
(March 1998), pp. 6-9.
Biographies
Philip Meredith studied and worked for eleven years in
the workshops of the Usami Shokakudo in Kyoto, Japan,
and is currently Head Conservator of the Far Eastern Conservation Centre at the National Museum of Ethnology,
Leiden, The Netherlands.
Mark Sandiford: After serving an apprenticeship and working as a decorator for ten years Mark re-trained as a paper
conservator at Camberwell College of Arts on the OND and
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1. Chinese export wallpaper, mid. nineteenth century. Before removal during
inital mechanical surface cleaning. Showing discolouration around pier
glass.
2. Hanging the polyester textile. Showing the wall surface constructed of
wooden planking.
HND courses. He then specialised in the conservation of historic wallpapers and large works of art on paper on the RCA/
V&A post-graduate course, graduating with Distinction. He
has been practising this specialism as a partner of Sandiford
and Mapes since 1993. Mark is joint winner of the Museums and Galleries Young Conservator of the Year Award,
1994, awarded for work in historic wallpaper conservation.
3. The first layer of Japanese paper being applied to the polyester textile.
4. TheUkekake (‘ cushion’ or ‘pocket’ ) layer being applied to the first
layer of Japanese paper in quarter sheets.
Philippa Mapes: Philippa gained a BA Hons in History in
1985. Following employment at the Silver Studio Wallpaper Archive, she trained as a paper conservator on the OND
course at Camberwell College of Art. After working at Buckinghamshire Record Office, Philippa further specialised in
historic wallpaper conservation on the RCA/V&A conservation course, gaining an MA with Distinction on graduating. She is now partner in the firm of Sandiford and Mapes
and joint winner of the Museums and Galleries Commission
Young Conservator of the Year Award 1994.
Contact addresseses
Philip Meredith,
Far Eastern Conservation Centre
P.O. Box 212
2300 AE Leiden
The Netherlands
Mark Sandiford, Phillippa Mapes
Sandiford and Mapes
Tower Farm
Grimsthorpe
Lincs PE10 0NF
UK
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