In this frieze, printed by the Gledhill Wallpaper co. in 1906-7, tall, slender trees stand in the foreground, growing from a well-manicured lawn like elongated stalks of broccoli. A paved, white sidewalk runs horizontally across the length of the frieze, branching off in the center of the panel and leading to a majestic landscape of green forests, pink mountains, buttercream lakes and cottony clouds. Adding to the pastel fantasy, the sky is printed a metallic gold. The top of the scene is bordered by rows of vertical hash marks in ochre and brown, and the bottom by a large band of gold scrollwork and green foliate motifs. The lower border is textured in such a way that it resembles a woven tapestry.

Gledhill’s frieze is lovely, but their design is not wholly original. With its tall, bendy trees and lower scroll border, it bares striking compositional similarities to Walter Crane’s famous “May Tree” frieze. “May Tree” was printed by British company Jeffrey & Co. in 1896, about ten years before this paper was in production. The style in which Gledhill chose to render the landscape – with strong, dark outlines and pale watercolor fill – is dissimilar to the dark, block-printed “May Tree,” but instead appears to be derivative of Crane’s illustrative work, made famous through his editions of classic stories like Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Beauty & the Beast. Gledhill was only one of many companies that took inspiration from Crane’s work.

Anna Rasche is a student in the History of Decorative Arts & Design graduate Program at the Cooper Hewitt, and is a Master’s Fellow in the Wallcoverings Department.

Leave a Reply