Each year as part of our Beekman 1802 Heirloom Collection of furniture and linen, we highlight one element that we call The Lost Arts. (see prior Lost Arts by clicking here). It’s our way of supporting the craftsmanship that once built America.
This year we are featuring the work of our neighbors (literally right up Main Street from us), Adelphi Paper Hangings— producer of the finest quality, block-printed wallpapers available on the market today. Their wallpapers are meticulously reproduced from original documents and hand-printed by skilled artisans using the same methods and materials employed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Block printing has long been used for decorative printing on fabrics and wallpaper. Wooden blocks are carved of repetitive patterns composed of one or a small number of motifs. For a multicolor pattern, each color element is carved as a separate block and individually inked and applied.
To create a pattern block, the blockcutter begins by carving out the wood around the heavier masses first, leaving the finer and more delicate work until the last so as to avoid any risk of injuring it during the cutting of the coarser parts. When large masses of color occur in a pattern, the corresponding parts on the block are usually cut in outline, the object being filled in between the outlines with felt, which not only absorbs the color better, but gives a much more even impression than it is possible to obtain with a large surface of wood.
To create wallpaper, Adelphi draws a length of paper from the roll over a long table. The artisan then applies his block and presses it firmly and steadily on the paper, ensuring a good impression by striking it smartly on the back with a wooden mallet. That impression then has to hang and completely dry.
The second impression is made in the same way, the printer taking care to see that it fits exactly to the first, a point which he can make sure of by means of the pins with which the blocks are provided at each corner and which are arranged in such a way that when those at the right side or at the top of the block fall upon those at the left side or the bottom of the previous impression the two printings join up exactly and continue the pattern without a break.
Between each impression, the ink has to dry, so the more detailed a pattern or the more colors used greatly increased the amount of time it takes to produce the finished product.
We’ve watched this process unfold (or rather, unroll) many times at Adelphi. On one afternoon we had the chance to visit the cellar—and we found a treasure! There were stacks of wooden blocks from the 19th and 20th centuries that were no longer in use. (Once the wood on a block cracks, it can no longer be used for print-making.)
Photographer Sarah Pezdek Smith takes you on a tour of Adelphi:
We were so awed by their patina and beauty that we then asked our blacksmith Michael McCarthy to create a stand so that each could be displayed as a sculpture—lost works of art, found.
Bring a bit of history into your home. See all of the one of a kind blocks available in the Mercantile