Landscapes on Wood Wainscot

Proper cleaning and conservation are a future project requiring expertise.

At the 1858 Green–Evans House in Tennessee, landscape paintings on the parlor wood wainscot make you look twice. They are called out as significant in the National Register nomination: “[The paintings are] the most distinguishing feature of the south parlor. Local artist Fred Swanton completed the 14″ x 36″ paintings in 1888. 

Local artist Fred Swanton completed the 14″ x 36″ paintings in 1888.

Stacy Preston Photography

“Swanton had painted circus wagons before coming to southern Middle Tennessee in the late 1880s. According to several local sources, Swanton first attempted to earn his living by teaching painting; his periodic drinking bouts made teaching impossible, so he hired out his services [as a decorative painter].  . . . Swanton’s work should not be considered folk, but rather part of the plain painting tradition of 19th-century American art: a form of art where  ‘the conventions of fine art are present but not fully deployed. The net result is a work like fine art but simpler, less ostentatious.’ [quoting John Michael Vlach]

See more of this house: 1858 Greek Revival House

“Although Swanton’s graining of the wainscoting is typical of painted interiors, his landscapes on the wainscot may be unique. A repeated theme in his work is a broken limb in his trees, also found in two of his other Middle Tennessee houses. His skill as a painter was not inconsiderable. He understood the importance of diminishing size in perspective [and he] demonstrated an ability to convey three-dimensional images. His color scheme indicates a limited palette, a characteristic of the plain painter tradition.”

Several panels reflect farming life in the South.

Stacy Preston Photography

Then again, Linda Lefko of the Center for Painted Wall Preservation [pwpcenter.org] says that, while murals were usually applied to plaster, it was not unusual for them to appear elsewhere. “Several panels reflect farming life in the South, so he was painting what he was familiar with. I would compare this with the scenic vignettes of 1880s sleigh painters.”


Tags: OHJ August 2021 Parlor murals Wood wainscot

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