A new website for the Center for the Preservation of Painted Walls, www.pwpcenter.org, has been created for use as a resource for owners of painted plaster walls in New England. It will also serve as a clearing house for artists, conservators and preservationists to document their research into the history and care of these extraordinary art treasures found in homes and taverns throughout New England dating to the 18th and early 19th century.
Art historians began to unravel the mysteries of who painted murals on walls in the early 1920s when folk art was first recognized as an American art form. Nina Fletcher Little and Jean Lipman were among those who identified the most famous muralist, Rufus Porter, in the 1930s, which culminated in Lipman’s 1968 biography Rufus Porter, Yankee Pioneer in which she lamented the continued loss of the walls whose importance was not recognized.
Since then, walls continue to be destroyed through excess moisture, fire or simply by homeowners not realizing their historical value. Painted walls still continue to be discovered under paint, wallpaper or plaster used to cover them, and each of these requires a special conservation treatment to remove the covering while minimizing the disruption to the original paint.
The Center has been organized by Linda Lefko and Jane Radcliffe, whose 30 years of documenting and studying painted plaster walls culminated in their 2011 book, Folk Art Murals of the Rufus Porter School – New England Landscapes 1825-45.
They are joined by David Ottinger, best known for extracting more than 100 walls for preservation since the 1980s, and Jennifer Mass, Senior Scientist at the Winterthur Museum who has been analyzing paints used by these artists for many years.
PWP is dedicated to the research and preservation of eighteenth and early nineteenth century American paint-decorated plaster walls. Our goal is to survey and document these walls, in situ or in collections to further the appreciation of this rare and highly vulnerable art form, and to help conserve painted plaster walls for future generations.
The Center has embarked on discovering the best techniques for repairing and restoring walls by consulting with conservators nationwide, and is organizing a symposium to discuss the various methods now utilized and to identify the best practice.
Homeowners of walls are encouraged to contact the Center to document their walls or request advice on how to preserve them. Anyone wishing to become an active member of the Center may contact it through the new website www.pwpcenter.org or by writing to PO Box 187, Hallowell, Maine 04347.