Over 20 years ago,Steve Larson and Chris Ohrstrom founded Adelphi Paper Hangings with the intention of preserving a nearly forgotten craft: block printing wallpaper by hand. Their archive is now considerable.
Sought out by restoration specialists, museums, historic sites, and homeowners as well, Adelphi is the only commercial production facility block printing historic papers in the United States.
Working from an archive of historic documents and fragments, these dedicated artisans make accurate replicas of wallcoverings from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. The patterns are printed using custom-made, pearwood printing blocks and paints based on traditional formulas and materials.
Where no block exists, an in-house artist creates a series of transparencies from the original document paper, for each color in the pattern. The transparencies are sent with fresh wood blocks to a company that laser-cuts the pattern onto the blocks.
Depending on the project, rolls are either printed on continuous sheets of acid-neutral, cotton-based paper or on individual sheets glued together, as would have been done with papers made before about 1800.
Before any color or pattern goes on, the paper is coated with a chalk-based paint and hung to dry. Printing begins by brushing the paint into a felt and tamping the printing block into the paint. Using a foot-operated lever system, the block is pressed into the paper, then gently lifted. The paper roll is advanced and the process repeated.
Applying multiple colors to a single roll of paper means making precise impressions with the block, one color at a time. As each color is applied, it’s allowed to dry in undulating festoons. Successive colors are block printed in perfect register with the previous ones. That is why block printing is so time consuming and labor intensive to make. “If we print one color on 15 rolls, that’s a good day’s work,” Larson says.
Adelphi Paper Hangings
Sharon Springs, New York