There is no straightforward answer to the question of what to do with the 120-year-old wallpaper at the Cockayne Farmhouse according to Christine Young, a professional paper conservator from Nashville.
"It's really extraordinary to have this much paper," Young said during a two- day inspection of the property. "I am here to say what options are available, and at what costs."
"There are several periods of decor," Young added, noting that layers of wallpaper have been placed over each other several times. She said the newer paper has been exposed to the elements more. "The older paper underneath is likely to be in better condition than those on the surface."
Photo by Daniel Dorsch
Cockayne Historic Preservation Committee program director Tom Tarowsky accompanies paper conservator Christine Young as she inspects the Cockayne Farmhouse, considering preservation options for the building’s 120-year-old wallpaper.
The last known wallpaper installation occurred in the 1890s when the farmhouse was renovated.
Young said some of the paper in the house can be preserved, but the Cockayne Farmstead Association and the city of Glen Dale need to consider a number of factors before deciding what to do.
"We still have to determine whether the paper can stay," she said. "The walls need so much repair that the paper needs to be removed regardless. Is it in good enough condition to be removed and then reinstalled? Some of the paper is really brittle."
Young listed a few options for preserving the paper. She described a process by which the original wallpaper can be reproduced in the period style that would make it more durable than before. Another option would be to repaper the house and set up a display of paper from each era of the Cockayne Farmstead's history in chronological order as an exhibit.
Young said while restoring the original wallpaper at the Cockayne Farmhouse is definitely possible, it would be difficult and expensive.
"The papers are deteriorated," said Young. "They can be preserved, but they will never look the same as when they were originally hung."
Young described the original wallpaper at the Cockayne Farmhouse as "truly opulent," reflecting the family's wealth at the time. She said some of the papers were made of such fine material that they once were almost clothlike. But she said time and wear have changed that forever.
"You need to ask yourself, 'What is your intention at the end?' If it is for the house to look the same as it did then, then you cannot keep the wallpaper. For a preservation demonstration, you may want to show the different layers of original wallpaper, or even save one wall or portion of wall."
Cockayne Historic Preservation Committee Chairwoman Nila Chaddock and Program Director Tom Tarowsky both said Young's visit was a learning experience for them.
"Admittedly, this entire project has been a learning experience for a group of grassroots amateur preservationists," said Chaddock.
Tarowsky said Young's visit provided the committee with lots of food for thought.
"Our people who work on this need to give it a good bit of thought," said Tarowsky. "Everything must have the blessing of the State Historic Preservation Office and the city of Glen Dale. The committee meets Monday, and that's when the process will move forward."
"No matter what decision gets made, it's going to be a compromise," Tarowsky added. "This cannot be a quick decision. It needs thought. We need to review all options."