Virtual Museum of Painted Walls
The Center for Painted Wall Preservation (CPWP) is working with photographer Michael Wasserman, owner of Virtually Real Solutions, to capture paint-decorated interiors using Matterport cameras and to produce 3D models that will become our Virtual Museum of Painted Walls. You are invited to explore the first of these virtual tours below.
The Hersey-Whitten House
The Hersey-Whitten House was built in the late-eighteenth or early-nineteenth century in the village of Center Tuftonboro, New Hampshire. Originally built for the Copp family, it was once a dance hall and inn.
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The large, wood-framed gable front house is two-stories high, with a third level under the tall roof. The house has a large room on the second floor with wood panels that swing up to create a large, open space for a dance or other gathering, and then can be swung down to divide the space into sleeping chambers when needed.
It was most likely the Copp family that commissioned the decorative paintwork found in the entry / stair hall and the front parlor sometime between 1826 and 1840. Around 1860, the property was sold to the Hersey family who used it as a working farm. Oral history suggests that during the Hersey era, the upper floors were used to house farmhands.
The entry hall features scenes that follow the rise of the stair. At the lower landing, the artist has placed a pair of men—one in red, one in blue—on horses in a prominent location. At the upper landing, a tree is placed on a corner, its branches spreading out across the adjacent walls. The most distinctive element in the stair is the hand painted “carpet runner” that runs up the stairs. The runner is painted in vibrant shades, and has a hand-painted medallion at the center of each tread and riser.
In the parlor, decorative painting is found on nearly every surface. The floor is faux-finished to look like gray marble. While other muralists might have left the surface below the chair rail bare, in the Hersey-Whitten House boldly brushed cartouches frame a series of scenes painted in vibrant colors. The murals above the chair rail depict a series of village scenes. One shows a row of buildings on either side of a village green. A black iron fence becomes strong, black vanishing lines that pull the viewer’s eye into the scene. Another scene shows an allée of trees along a road populated with strolling figures.
The murals are not signed, but bear many of the motifs associated with the John Avery family. John Avery was born in Deerfield, New Hampshire in 1790. The 1850 federal census listed Avery as a cabinetmaker, while his five sons were listed as painters. As the Averys were true decorative painters, they were able to provide their clients with a range of painted finishes including graining and marbleizing on interior surfaces and also on furniture. In this example, the Hersey-Whitten House interiors have painted floors and stairs that complement the murals. The parlor floor is painted to look like marble, while a painted band up the center of the stair risers and treads imitates a carpet runner.
Motifs associated with the Avery School include fingerprint grapes, brushstroke birds, blackwork tendrils, and bands of shrubs. Backgrounds are often stylized mountainscapes in which the profiles of the hills resemble puzzle pieces. All of these elements appear in the Hersey-Whitten House murals. Whimsical animals, another favorite element for Avery, are also found here. While the Hersey-Whitten walls bear many of the signature Avery elements, they show village scenes not typically found in Avery paintings.
Support for the Virtual Museum of Painted Walls has been generously given by The Decorative Arts Trust (DAT) through a Dean F. Failey Grant, named in honor of the Trust’s late Governor, in support of noteworthy research, exhibition, publication and object-based conservation projects.
As CPWP continues to grow this virtual museum and other resources, please consider donating in support of our work to document, preserve, and promote this important American art. We have an all-volunteer board of leading painted wall experts, architectural historians, and decorative arts professionals. The experts and others help homeowners and organizations document and care for their painted walls.
Help us continue our important work by donating today!