The Old State Governor’s Mansion Wallpaper is a Work of Art


BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — People were socializing. Someone may have made a speech, but Elise Grenier could not tell you what was said.

She was too distracted by the hand-painted wallpaper, her scenes fictionalized by an artist who may have never traveled to the United States. The slow deterioration of the masterpiece in the dining room of the governor’s mansion in Old Louisiana was all Grenier noticed.

“I couldn’t even concentrate, because of the damage,” she said. “All I could do was look at the damage and think, ‘I wish someone would let me fix it. “”

His wish came true in July, when the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Museums Division hired Grenier to restore not only the wallpaper in the dining room, but also the damaged rooms in the rotunda and the hall. East.

Grenier is a Louisiana-born art conservator whose company, Grenier Conservation, has restored a number of key Louisiana public artworks, including LSU’s Allen Hall murals, Memorial ceiling art Lobby of the Louisiana State Capitol and the murals by Conrad Albrizio at the Louisiana Exhibition Museum in Shreveport. .

She also performed maintenance work on a Banksy mural in New Orleans.

Now her focus is solely on the wallpaper, which she says is a work of art in itself. The wallpaper is only one of three sets in the United States. The other two are at the White House in Washington, DC, and at Brown University.

And it makes sense that the former governor’s mansion would share this setting with the White House, given that Governor Huey Long partly expressed his dream of becoming president by designing the mansion as a smaller version of the White House.

With one exception.

“Huey Long had the wallpaper in the dining room when the mansion was built in 1930,” Grenier said. “The White House didn’t put up its wallpaper until 30 years later, in 1961.”

This raises some speculation.

Did Jackie Kennedy visit the Old Mansion when her husband presented his presidential campaign at the Crowley Rice Festival in 1959? After all, she spearheaded the restoration of the White House in 1961. Then again, that might just be coincidence. The fact is that the wallpaper was placed in the White House later, and not in the dining room.

“At the White House, it’s in one of the reception rooms,” Grenier said. “What’s interesting about the White House is that their decor was salvaged from a house in Maryland, a very old historic house that was going to be demolished. It was called the Stoner House – a beautiful historic house built by a wealthy merchant from Thurmont, Maryland. The other set is in the common room at Brown University.”

The Governor’s Mansion wallpaper appears as it was when installed – a continuous mural telling the story of an American landscape that technically does not exist.

“It’s called ‘Scenic America,’ inspired by French artists’ engravings of American sites from the 1820s,” Grenier said. “French artist Jean-Julien Deltil designed the wallpaper, but I don’t know if he ever came to America. It could be his impression of how he thought America would be.

Nonetheless, Jean Zuber and Co. produced the “Scenic America” wallpaper in 1834 in Alsace, France, where it has operated since 1797. And the amazing part? The wallpaper is still available for purchase.

Grenier researched the business while spending his days surrounded by Deltil’s idealized 1834 American world where diverse races and ethnicities harmonize in romantic scenes of New York and the Bay from the heights of Weehawken, New Jersey. , the West Point fortification on the Hudson River, a view of Boston and its harbor, the Virginia Natural Bridge and Niagara Falls.

Once visitors orient themselves on this continuous carousel, the landscape becomes somehow recognizable. And there are many visitors who saw it while Grenier was working.

The Secretary of State’s Office added the Old Louisiana Governor’s Mansion to its Museums Division in November 2021 and has since opened it to visitors free of charge.

“I am incredibly pleased that the former Governor’s Mansion is now in the custody of the State Department,” Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said. “This fine piece of our state’s social and political history joins the eight other museums currently in my care as Secretary of State.”

The building was previously operated by Preserve Louisiana, formerly the Foundation for Historical Louisiana.

The mansion also housed the Louisiana Art & Science Museum from 1964 to 1978.

“A lot of visitors remember when the planetarium was here,” said Sondra Mott, event coordinator for the secretary of state and manager of the mansion. “We still have a switch for that on the circuit breaker box.”

And before the planetarium opened up the universe for a 14-year stream of museum visitors and school years behind the mansion, the building housed nine governors, starting with Huey Long.

Louisiana governors previously lived in an old house known as Knox Mansion, which stood in the same location. Long enlisted the help of prison inmates to tear it down, which led to the Louisiana legislature’s failed attempt to impeach the governor in 1930.

“I consider my role as a goalkeeper an incredible privilege and responsibility,” Ardoin said. “The mansion is our very own White House and is one of the most iconic remnants and reminders of Huey Long’s legacy as Governor of Louisiana.”

The construction cost was nearly $150,000, plus $22,000 for the finest damask and velvet curtains, crystal chandeliers, and other high-end pieces.

This included the wallpaper, which Grenier said involved a woodblock printing process.

“According to documentation from the records of the old governor’s mansion, 1,674 blocks of wood were needed to produce it,” Grenier said. “The woodcut method requires a separate woodcarving for each color present. Each block of wood was lowered by a pulley system onto the color pad, then raised and lowered onto the paper to receive the design.

The paper is printed with tempera paint and the colors are not water resistant.

“The sky, which changes from a light blue to a dark blue, would have been applied by hand before the scenes were printed,” Grenier said.

Grenier used Caran d’Ache colored pencils in the restoration, but she points out that they weren’t used for the touch-ups.

“I used them to keep the wallpaper intact,” she said. “It’s basically tempera painting on paper, and it’s about the trickiest thing there is to deal with in restoration. As long as nothing happens to it, you’ll be fine, but by its very nature, tempera on paper is much more delicate than, say, faux finishes, which are directly on plaster.

And since tempera wallpaper is not water resistant, water-based solutions cannot be used for its restoration when it suffers from knocks and scratches.

Grenier is looking around now. The paper was reattached where it had separated from the wall, the cracks were smoothed out and the bumps disappeared.

And while the wallpaper now looks like it did when it was first installed, the wallpaper story isn’t perfect.

“The paper was also not properly aligned at some of the seams when it was first applied in 1930,” Grenier said. “It was designed in a continuous flow, and it works very well in a circular room. It’s in a circular room in the White House, but here it’s interrupted by the window.

But it works, and now Grenier takes a moment to soak up the world of Jean-Julien Deltil.

“It really is a beautiful work of art,” she said. “After years of searching, I am so happy to have finally had the chance to restore it.”


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