Tuesday, April 11, 2017

From the c1765 Schuyler Mansion: Fabulous Flock Wallpaper

Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Susan reporting,

This past weekend I visited the Schuyler Mansion in Albany, NY. It's a magnificent Georgian brick house built by landowner, merchant, and politician General Philip Schuyler (1733-1804) between 1761-1765, the one-time centerpiece to a sizable 125-acre estate overlooking the Hudson River.

But what makes the house important to me is that the heroine of my new book, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, considered this house both her childhood home and her adult retreat. Here Eliza met her future husband, Alexander Hamilton, married him in the family parlor, and gave birth to their first child. The estate - then known as The Pastures - was an important place to her, and I'll be writing several blogs about it over the next few months.

Philip Schuyler was determined that everything in his new house would be in the latest style, and while on a trip to London in 1761-62 on business, he went on something of a buying spree. He had both considerable wealth and considerable taste, especially for a young man; he was only 28 when the house was begun. It's easy to imagine fashionable shopkeepers racing to bring out their best wares for the consideration of the New Yorker with deep pockets, and I only hope that his wife Catherine, left behind in Albany with their growing family (she'd eventually bear fifteen children), had some say in the decoration of their new home.

Among Philip's stylish indulgences were flock wallpapers. Mimicking the elaborate patterns of woven silk damask, flock (the flock was pulverized, powdered wool, a by-product of the woolen industry, that was applied to the paper with a turpentine-based glue) wallpapers were the height of luxurious display in the 18thc, and the richly patterned and textured papers hung on the walls of royal palaces. The scale of the patterns tended to be large, and looked best in big rooms like the ones that Philip was having built in his new house.

Miraculously, the record of exactly what he purchased remain in an "Invoice of Sundries to America." He bought flock wallpaper, listed by color, as well as "caffy," a kind of flock that copied damask patterns, enough to paper nearly every room. (He also purchased a special scenic wallpaper that I'll discuss in another blog.) While the original 18thc papers have long vanished from the house's walls, replicas have been created and hung in their place - the expert work of the Peebles Island Resource Center of the Regional Alliance for Preservation

As you can see from these photographs, the effect is stunning, the mixture of colors and textures both bold and sophisticated. (It's also tempting, and visitors are cautioned not to touch the lushly fuzzy patterns.) Impressive as it all is today, 18thc guests to the house must have been left in amazement by so much colorful splendor - exactly as Philip would have wished.

The Schuyler Mansion is now a state historic site, and open to the public. See their Facebook page for more information about visiting and tour reservations.

Many thanks to historic interpreter Danielle Funiciello for her expert tour, and her assistance with this post.

All photographs ©2017 by Susan Holloway Scott.

Read more about Eliza Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton in my latest historical novel, I, Eliza Hamilton, now available everywhere.


Sarah Waldock said...

A very interesting post, I have been doing a lot of research into wallpapers of the 18th and early 19th centuries. Flocking was originally applied to bedhangings in the late 16th and early 17th centuries [I am fortunate to have had access to a plethora of wills of local yeoman farmers which held particularly detailed inventories in one small area of Essex] to mimic 'altobasso' velvets from Italy. As silk was used early in the 18th century as a wallhanging,usually Chinese patterns, copying a silk velvet on paper seems a logical progression. Flocking remained popular throughout the Victorian era, and also made a comeback during my youth in the 1970s, and I loathed it because if I came into contact with it I broke out in eczema. whether that was because the flocking was then synthetic or not I don't know, but there's an interesting opening for plot bunnies if not.

Cynthia Lambert said...

Love the Schuyler house! If only I'd known you would be here - I could have shown you around. I've known Heidi Hill, the director of the Schuyler Mansion for many years. It's a fabulous house - I want one just like it :-) It's actually nicer than the governor's mansion, IMHO. Next time you are in the area, please let me know. I know where all the good houses are buried.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Sarah ~ One of the most interesting things I found out when I started reading about wool flock papers was that they were considered luxurious, but also very durable - which seems to be born out by how long so many of them remained on walls, well into the mid-19thc. They might be there still if in the 1880s, they became regarded as "unhygenic" and removed. So there's your plot bunny!

Cynthia ~ I will! I saw just enough of Albany to be really intrigued - so much amazing architecture and history. I agree that the Schuyler House really is the jewel. Don't you wish you could have seen it in all its 1760s splendor, surrounded by gardens and orchards and with pastures sweeping down to the river? ::sigh::

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