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American Wall Stenciling, 1790–1840
Ann Eckert Brown

2003 • 288 pp. 250 illus. (180 color). 8 1/2 x 11"
Decorative Arts & Material Culture / American History

$40.00 Hardcover, 978-1-58465-194-9

A generously illustrated survey of an important post-revolutionary American decorative art form.

For today’s owner of an antique house, the discovery of an early stenciled wall—even a fragment of one—is a revelation that offers a shard of a tangible past. In post-revolutionary America, the decoration of choice for a surprisingly large number of home owners from all social and economic groups was walls painted with intricate stenciled designs. Stenciled walls were cheaper and more sanitary than those covered with paper, but the most compelling reason for the widespread use of stenciling was that it was considered far more stylish than impersonal, mass-produced paper. Stencil artists freely borrowed wallpaper motifs and crossbred them. Successive generations of wallpaper, which became increasingly more affordable after the Industrial Revolution, covered stenciled walls, hiding them, obliterating some and preserving others.

Ann Eckert Brown’s extensive research has unearthed stencils not just in New England’s more characteristic homes, taverns, and inns, but also in the south and midwest. She divides stenciling into rural-based folk art, which uses naturalistic, and sometimes primitive motifs, and classically inspired, urban-based stencils, which feature patterns more refined in scale and earlier in execution, echoing Federal style images.

Over 250 illustrations complement Brown’s text as she makes fresh stylistic connections among designs, artists, regions, and houses over two centuries, discovering and illuminating some missing links in the history of wall stenciling. Even more, she ties together the shared destinies of the families, descendants, artists, rescuers, and restorers who lived with, created, or have dedicated their lives to preserving, this beautiful art form. She also provides a glossary, a discussion of early paint materials, suggested resources for wall stenciling preservation, and a Who’s Who of American wall stenciling which includes 18th, 19th, and 20th century artists and preservationists. The result, as Mimi Handler writes in her foreword, “is a book that fairly hums with life and purpose.”

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Reviews / Endorsements

"Brown gives us a genealogy of design relationships and similarities in shapes--leaves, festoons, flowers, and fans—as well as the more abstract record of their juxtapositions, density, size, and spacing. Her absolute familiarity with the myriad variations of folk and classical designs as well as their migrations, her ability to place them in context, is a great advantage to those of us who are glad to know about what remains of these bright, lively images from the quickly receding American past.”—Mimi Handler, former editor of Early American Life

ANN ECKERT BROWN has been researching, executing, and teaching 18th and 19th century decorative painting techniques since the 1960s. Included in her restoration commissions is the painted interior of a Gothic Revival chapel in Newport, Rhode Island. Her ornamented furnishings have been widely exhibited, including two solo exhibitions in the 1990s. Her work has appeared in Yankee and Early American Life, which named her a craftsman of the year in 1993. She has presented numerous programs on American wall stenciling, including those at Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts and the The Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, New York.

Thu, 14 Mar 2019 13:07:45 -0500