In the Drawing Room
Last week, Susan Buck, Architectural Finishes Conservator, visited Montpelier to continue work on two ongoing projects in the drawing room (M108): the search for curtain hanging evidence and the hunt for clues about the original wallpaper.
The search for evidence of how curtains were displayed:
One Madison era visitor mentioned the windows in the drawing room were “hung with light silken drapery.” But, how were the curtains suspended and what design did the Madisons choose?
To learn as much as possible about the drawing room curtains, we are searching for physical clues for drapery hardware. Having already eliminated the premise that the Madisons had cornices above the windows because no physical evidence survives, Dr. Buck performed additional forensic work to see whether wooden laths were nailed directly to the top of the window frame to hold the window treatments.
Further clues to the nature of the original red flocked wallpaper.
During an earlier phase of research for the mansion restoration, Dr. Buck found a very tiny fragment of what appears to be the wallpaper that James and Dolley Madison chose for the drawing room. Discovered on top of the window frame, analysis revealed it was a rag paper coated with red distemper and then printed with a pattern in a resinous material (possibly shellac) to which miniscule pieces of red wool were adhered to mimic expensive fabric wallcoverings.
But was the paper monochromatic (red wool on a red ground) or could it have been two toned (red wool on a white or another light color ground)? Was the velvety flocking embossed with a pattern? Dr. Buck returned to hunt for additional fragments of the paper, finding a fragment which also had red flock on a red ground. This confirms the character of the earlier find, but still leaves us with questions – and work to do!
They are up! Last week, the bright green shutters returned to Montpelier! They have received a final coat of paint and copper caps and have been carefully installed. Each shutter is unique to a particular window. We hope to post some pictures of the entire house soon, but here are some pictures of the process in the meantime.
1Margaret Bayard Smith, “Mrs. Madison” in James Herring and James B. Longacre, eds., The National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans, vol. III, (New York, Herman Bancroft, 1836)