Now that Thanksgiving has arrived, the space of our kitchens is about to be center stage for friends, family, and most importantly, food. All of the most important trappings for Thanksgiving revolve around food and its accompaniments, such as dishware, which, are the center pieces of this kitchen sidewall from the mid 1930’s. Seemingly inlayed into the repeat are a set of three hutches that all hold a set of dishware and food, while flowers and teacups are placed upon various ledges throughout. The combination of red, grey, and off-white make for a warm but subdued tone that would create an optimal space for the homeowner to display other important kitchen related objects.

This piece was created by Imperial Wallcoverings Incorporated in Glens Falls, New York. It was part of a set of washable kitchen wallpapers created during the depression era. Imperial Wallcoverings actually invented the first washable papers by fashioning special, water resistant pigments. After a few years of production, they obtained a patent for their design in 1952. Washable papers were particularly useful for the kitchen as they were more resistant to sudden mishaps, unlike their non-washable counterparts whose colors were highly susceptible to smearing. In addition, with the onset of the Great Depression and the evolving connotation that the kitchen was a “women’s space”, cheap but fashionable “do it yourself” wallpapers like this one began to be manufactured to cut down on costs and appeal to this shift in the American lifestyle. Before the depression most wallpapers were installed either by employees from the manufacture or other professional wallpaper hangers.

Emily Ewen is a student in the History of Design & Curatorial Studies graduate program at the Cooper Hewitt, and is a Master’s Fellow in the Wallcoverings Department.

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