Wallpaper Treatment at Castle Tucker
Conservation at Castle Tucker, Wiscasset, Maine
Castle Tucker, Historic New England’s house on a bluff overlooking a tidal inlet in Wiscasset, Maine, was built in 1807 and entirely redecorated in 1858. Its fashionable Victorian interiors constitute a rare survival of nineteenth-century furnishings without additions or restorations. The property’s exposed site and dramatic two-story glassed-in “piazza,” however, made it vulnerable to winter winds and dampness, and over the years the furnishings and interior finishes suffered. For the past several years, and with the assistance of grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), Historic New England has made extensive improvements to the environment inside the house and carefully conserved the collections and interior finishes.
The property care team installed UV light filters on windows, reduced moisture penetration into the building, and installed new heaters and de-humidifiers. The conservation team, as well as contract conservators, focused on the collections, and all in all, more than one hundred different objects from the house were conserved.
After the environmental issues at the house had been addressed and the objects treated, the conservation team focused on the interior finishes, including grain-painted woodwork, the parquet floor in the hall, and the wallpaper in the parlor. Conservators in-painted losses in the grain painting with dry pigments and acrylic emulsion paints. They cleaned the diamond-patterned mahogany and maple parquet floor with a biodegradable, neutral pH cleaner, and applied a water-based polyurethane varnish to preserve the muted original colors and protect the floor.
The final stage of the current conservation campaign at Castle Tucker was the treatment of the parlor wall paper, which had been hung in the 1880s. The paste had failed, and the paper was coming off the walls. Using long polyethylene spatulas, conservators separated the paper from the walls in continuous sheets. In some areas, repairs had to be made to the plaster walls under the wall paper once the paper had been removed. The team then lined the walls and sheets with Japanese tissue paper, using wheat starch paste. This part of the treatment required great care to keep the front of the paper from getting wet. Because the wallpaper pigments were water soluble; if moisture penetrated to the front, the design could easily smear. When both wallpaper and walls were completely dry, the team re-applied the wallpaper to the walls with paste. Lastly, the conservators used acrylic emulsion paints to tone down areas of missing wallpaper where the liner showed through, making the losses virtually disappear. The wall paper conservation treatment in the parlor at Castle Tucker was completed in April, 2010. The conservation and property care teams have more work to do at Castle Tucker, but the poor environment in the house has been improved, and the condition of the parlor, at least, has been returned to the way it looked when Molly and Captain Richard Tucker still lived there.