This wallpaper is a reproduction of an earlier American wallpaper produced ca. 1800. Created during the waning years of the Colonial Revival movement it bears a strong neoclassical look with its inclusion of columns, obelisk and drapery swags. The design is in the pillar and arch format which was a popular British fashion from the late eighteenth century into the early years of the nineteenth century, and is printed in soft muted colors frequently used on reproduction papers of this period to reflect the faded colors of the original document.

I recently pulled the original wallpaper used to inspire this design to show a group of visiting scholarly collectors. The original is quite beautiful in its simplicity and naiveté. Designed and produced within a year of Washington’s death, the wallpaper pays tribute to aspects of his life, namely his participation in the order of Freemasons and his military career. The design contains numerous Masonic emblems including a pyramid containing a bust of Washington, the all-seeing eye, and the Masonic pavement in the checkerboard design. At the base of the pedestal are shown trophies of war, with a cannon, cannonballs, and a drum. As you will notice many of these elements have been removed from the reproduction wallpaper. All the Masonic emblems are gone except the Masonic pavement, and the elements of war have also been removed. The pyramid with the all-seeing eye, still in use on the dollar bill, has been changed to an obelisk with Washington’s portrait suspended on a ribbon. The drapery swag has been enlarged and raised up to fill in the void created by the removal of the war trophies. And while the original is quite faded it was most likely printed in bright primary colors and green.
The reproduction paper is quite handsome in its design, and the elements still have a nice energy which keeps the viewer’s eyes moving over the surface. But knowing the history of the original document it is interesting to make comparisons to the reproduction to see what was left out, namely the major components that were George Washington’s professional life.

2 thoughts on “George Washington Did Not Sleep Here

This paper bears a remarkable resemblance to Nancy McClelland’s paper “George Washington in Masonic Triangle” (also a reproduction) found in the collection of Historic New England.

The original document did inspire a number of reproductions and I believe the Cooper Hewitt has two different versions. While the original document was woodblock printed, the small size of the pattern repeat made it ideal for reproducing by machine using printing rollers.

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