The Cross House

Recreating the Cross House in…Ireland?

 

THE BACKGROUND

I love learning new stuff.

I really love learning new stuff.

It should be noted though that I am a picky learner. So, if somebody says: YOU SHOULD LEARN THIS, I will, most likely, be an unenthusiastic learner (and who does not react as such?). However, if something captures my special attention, I turn into a sponge. I want to learn all about my favorite new subject.

If somebody had told me a year ago that I would become deeply interested in wallpaper I would have thought them crazy. If a year ago somebody told me: YOU SHOULD LEARN ABOUT WALLPAPER, I would have yawned.

What happened between a year ago and today regarding wallpaper? For me, interest must be sparked. And once a spark is ignited, off I run.

A dramatic example of this was in the 1980s. I wanted to buy an old boat. So I became interested in old boats. This interest ignited The Spark. So I started casually researching the history of old boats. Then I began deeply researching. Then I became obsessed as more information ignited an ever-increasing arc of interest. This stuff is fascinating!!!!!!

All this led to my actually owning an old boat:

 

My beloved ALONDRA. Image courtesy Mystic Seaport Museum, Rosenfeld Collection.
My beloved ALONDRA. I no longer own her. Sigh. Image courtesy Mystic Seaport Museum, Rosenfeld Collection.

 

Then I published two books on the subject. A subject which in 1986 I knew absolutely nothing about.

 

THE NEW INTEREST

My interest began on March 1, 2014. This was the day we demolished a non-original wall at the Cross House. Once the wall was gone, a full-height but very narrow strip of wallpaper was revealed (which had been covered by a 2×4). The paper was apparent as the original in the two-story stair hall. From what little I could see, I really liked the paper. I was also thrilled thrilled thrilled with the discovery. 1894 wallpaper!

So things stood while other matters occupied my attention at the Cross House.

I often though thought about the paper. Wouldn’t it be cool to figure out what it originally looked like? Then I had other thoughts. Wouldn’t it be cool to recreate the paper? Is that even possible?

This last thought set into motion a heightened awareness. All of us experience situations of heightened awareness. For example, after September 11, 2001, each person in America experiences a slight jolt whenever they pass a digital clock which says: 9:11. Before September 2001, you would not have even noticed this time. But something happened which increased your awareness of a clock stating 9:11.

So, too, with my wallpaper. Once the thought entered my head about recreating the paper, I began to notice things I would have previously paid no attention to. Like when I was reading a book about the restoration of Mark Twain’s home, which had a section detailing their efforts to recreate wallpapers installed by Twain in the 19th-century. They, too, only had fragments. Had I read the book the year previous I would likely have only skimmed through this chapter. Instead, I devoured it.

Several other such examples occurred, and all this new information bubbled together in my not quite conscious mind, like a stew simmering.

Casually, I began looking at wallpaper online. This led to an amazing encounter with peacocks.

The more I looked at wallpaper the more my interest grew. I could also, tentatively, like a child taking their first steps, discern the vast difference between good quality paper and poor. So, paper was not just paper? There were differences! My interest grew.

 

THE BO

As all of this stewed in my not quite conscious mind, a few thoughts bubbled to the surface and became coherent ideas.

Oh! I should contact Bo Sullivan!

I have known Bo for several years. He knows a LOT about historic houses and all parts therein. He also knows a lot about wallpaper, and started Bolling & Company, which sells fragments of very old historic papers framed as art. Bolling specializes in papers by Birge, which did incredible stuff, really stunning, for many decades.

I sent Bo images of my pitiful samples. Understandably, he was more polite than interested. But then a spark ignited. Bo suddenly had a thought: Could these pitiful samples be by…Birge? And Bo was off and running.

Here is what I sent Bo:

 

You see, not much tow irk with.
You see, not much to work with.

 

Once ignited, Bo began researching, and he found this:

 

An 1893 patent document. The designer is Charles Booze. I like this, because if I have the paper recreated I can tell everybody that I have Boozey paper.
An 1893 patent document. The designer is Charles Booze. I like this, because if I have the paper recreated I can tell everybody that I have Boozey paper. Image courtesy Bolling & Company.

 

The above patent document shows the wall paper (the lower square) and the frieze (the top square). The frieze would have been installed just below the ceiling. The Cross House has just this frieze:

 

xfng
The Birge frieze.

 

Then Bo — being a research God — found an actual sample of the wall paper:

 

Courtesy Historic New England
My paper! Zounds! Except my paper is on a sliver ground. But my frieze has this same green ground. Courtesy Historic New England.

 

This discovery knocked the feet out from under me. Do you appreciate the odds? There have been a ZILLION papers designed across the globe during the last few centuries. A ZILLION! That Bo, with no previous awareness of my paper, would have a hint that it might be by Birge, and that he could find a patent document, and that he could then find a pristine sample, is astronomical.

I now need to ask Bo for some winning Lottery numbers. Please.

 

THE DAVID

Concurrent with my prestering Bo, I also sent out feelers to companies which recreate historic wallpaper. Based on my pitiful scraps I was not really expecting any replies.

One of my feelers was sent to David Skinner, a company which had come up several times in my research, and with glowing reviews.

Well, Mr. David Skinner replied. The man! Skinner’s company is in Ireland, and Skinner not only responds to all my emails with alacrity, but he has also published a book:

 

You can buy the book here.
You can buy the book here.

 

Skinner’s emails have confirmed that, yes, they can recreate my stair hall wall paper, frieze, and ceiling paper. He has asked lots of esoteric questions about X and Y and Z, and perhaps one day I might understand the Language Of Ancient Paper (akin to Latin) and could properly answer these many questions. In the meantime I am hoping that Bo will act as translator.

No one reading this long post will be surprised by the following. Skinner’s emails have also confirmed that the price for digital reproductions is shocking. But that even better hand-screen reproductions are breathtakingly shocking. This might force me onto a street corner, shaking a metal coffee cup in my hand, and with a sign hanging from my neck stating: Need to buy wallpaper.

 

THE CONCLUSION

Mind you, I had no idea about any of this a week ago.

It seems extraordinary that I just happened to contact somebody who turns out to be the preeminent expert on Birge, and that my pitiful wallpaper fragments also proved to be — drum roll, please — by Birge.

It seems extraordinary, too, that I somehow managed to find the perfect company to reproduce my paper.

I think the Cross House is blessed.

7 Responses to Recreating the Cross House in…Ireland?

  1. You are blessed, and now the Cross House is, too. I don’t know what financial ramifications it might have for you, but if you put a PayPal donate button on your blog, then people who want to support your valiant restoration can help the cause. I speak for myself, but I can imagine that most of the residents in Emporia are cheering you on and might like to contribute to one of the Crown Jewels of Kansas. G:-)

  2. Bo is a genius, he was kind enough to contact me about my embossed fragments, but with no amazing breakthroughs as in your case. It does remind me though that I still owe him a scrap.

    In your travels, have you ever encountered wallpaper under original trim? And if you really want a heart attack, get a quote to have a new roller made for Lincrusta…

  3. This news is wonderful! How fantastic it all is-wow.

    Serendipity….such happenings give me hope, as I’m reminded that there are intelligent kind creative people in this world who do great things (Bo, David Skinner, you).

    Good luck with standing on the corner, tin cup in hand – lol.

    Now that I ponder this antique wallpaper situation…..a few years ago I read about an American man who found, relocated and restored a gorgeous historic home, in VA, and his business was creating wallpapers of a high standard….can you find him? Perhaps he could help you out? He did a beautiful job on his home.

  4. Hi Ross,

    These may also interest you. Mt. Diablo Handprints….though I’m not sure if they’re still in business.

    I believe that Bradbury & Bradbury will reproduce papers also. At one time I believe if they used your paper, they would give you x-amount, but I doubt that’s the case any longer.

    Kevin

  5. You make me laugh. If I encounter a man begging on a corner with a sign that reads, “need to buy wallpaper” I will certainly donate!

  6. I found your blog today, and I have been reading it for hours, and hours. I’ve had to go to the bathroom for the last 3 and I skipped dinner. Love it 🙂

    Now to what I wanted to say. I don’t think you are really intrested in wallpaper. Hear me out.

    What sparked your interest was your house. Much like with crappy drawings made by small children they aren’t very interesting…until your have your very own child. Then the crappy drawings suddenly become very interesting, and you will OOH and AHH over something that might be a horse or a dog or a hippo.

    You are interested in your house and everything that involves it because it is your child.

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