Sidewall, United States, ca. 1800. Block-printed on handmade paper. Gift of The Museum at The Fashion Institute of Technology

Memorial to Washington

This is one of the earliest American wallpapers in the Cooper-Hewitt collection. This is a memorial to George Washington and was produced within a year of his death. The design shows an obelisk with the portrait of Washington, an angel above, and trophies of war at the base. Flowering vines form an arch over the obelisk. Designs in this format are referred to as pillar and arch papers, which were designed in England later in the 19th century. This paper is a rather loose interpretation of this style. Traditionally these papers have a large repeat and were printed in a monochromatic colorway. Because of their large scale they were usually reserved for entry ways or stair halls where they lent an air of formality and stability with their strong architectural presence.

This memorial paper is much smaller in scale, was printed in bright primary colors, and is a rather crude design and printing. It lacks the severity often seen in pillar and arch papers and the polychrome colors give it fresh look. This design also lacks much of the symbolism present in another paper honoring Washington in the Museum’s collection, Sacred to Washington. Produced around the same time Sacred is much grander in scale and contains the figures of Liberty and Justice in mourning, along with an eagle, with head bowed, sitting atop an urn. The scene appears staged and has an almost theatrical appearance which is not uncommon for this style of paper.

Papers of this type are usually created to honor or pay tribute to individuals or events, as this one was. It is interesting to note that this design has been reproduced at least twice since its original incarnation.

Museum Number: 
1998-75-144