John Tschirch, Architectural Historian
Detail, 18th century wallpaper in the Jeremiah Lee Mansion, Marblehead, Massachusetts. Photo: John Tschirch.
The story of wallpaper in 18th and early 19th century America is a global journey. From painted Chinese papers and bold English blue papers of the Georgian era to the delicate Neoclassical designs of the Federal period, American walls reflected a people’s desire for rooms alive with color, ornament and high style. Mr. Tschirch’s afternoon lecture will explore the art, design and craft of wallpaper production and its use in period interiors from Massachusetts to Virginia.
Wood block, printed and hand painted papers in bold patterns and vibrant colors dominated the mid-18th century. Superb examples may be seen in the George Wyeth House (c. 1750) in Williamsburg, Virginia while a passion for Rococo ornament and Classical scenes is grandly illustrated in the stair hall papers of the Jeremiah Lee Mansion (1768) in Marblehead, Massachusetts and the Van Rensselaer House (c. 1765), originally near Albany, New York and now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. These rare surviving papers complimented the handsome woodwork of grand interiors and provide a glimpse into the visual richness of the Georgian room.
By the late 18th century, the Scottish architect Robert Adam was transforming the world of design, moving away from vivid Baroque forms towards a refined interpretation of the decorative motifs found in Roman architecture and wall painting. This Neoclassical movement produced interiors of spare, refined proportion. The walls of Gore Place (c. 1810) in Waltham, Massachusetts and Dumbarton House (c. 1800) in Washington, DC each feature the light touch of their age with classically inspired ornament, tender honeysuckle and acanthus vines and classical maidens dancing across papers in apple green, pale pink and brilliant blue tones. In Mr. Tschirch’s lecture, walls will talk, imparting tales of how paper gave life and luxury to the great spaces of America’s Georgian and Federal era houses.
John Tschirch is an architectural historian, writer, design history blogger and teacher specializing in the architectural and social evolution of historic houses and landscapes. He currently serves as an instructor in design history for Rhode Island School of Design Continuing Education, which awarded him the 2010 Excellence in Teaching Award, and as the Visiting Curator of Urban History for the Newport Historical Society. John received his M.A. in Architectural History and Historic Preservation from the School of Architecture at the University of Virginia in 1986. From 1986 to 2013, he served the Preservation Society of Newport County, eventually becoming Director of Museum Affairs and Architectural Historian, overseeing the curatorial, conservation, education and research activities at the organization’s eleven historic house museums and gardens. He is an Honorary Member of the Garden Club of America and received the 2013 Frederick C. Williamson Professional Leadership Award from the Rhode Island State Historic Preservation Commission. His publications include “The New Thing at Newport: The Tiffany Glass Wall at Kingscote,” The Magazine Antiques (January 2013); “Newport Cottages” in the Encyclopedia of New England Culture (Yale University Press, 2005); “The Breakers: The Evolution of a Beaux Arts Landscape in Newport, Rhode Island,” Journal of the New England Garden History Society (1999); and “Newport,” in Parisian Palaces of the Belle Epoque (Paris, 1992).