For today's owner of an antique house, the discovery of an early stenciled wall--even a fragment of one--is a revelation that offers a shard of a tangible past. In post-revolutionary America, the decoration of choice for a surprisingly large number of home owners from all social and economic groups was walls painted with intricate stenciled designs. Stenciled walls were cheaper and more sanitary than those covered with paper, but the most compelling reason for the widespread use of stenciling was that it was considered far more stylish than impersonal, mass-produced paper. Stencil artists freely borrowed wallpaper motifs and crossbred them. Successive generations of wallpaper, which became increasingly more affordable after the Industrial Revolution, covered stenciled walls, hiding them, obliterating some and preserving others. Ann Eckert Brown's extensive research has unearthed stencils not just in New England's more characteristic homes, taverns, and inns, but also in the south and midwest. She divides stenciling into rural-based folk art, which uses naturalistic, and sometimes primitive motifs, and classically inspired, urban-based stencils, which feature patterns more refined in scale and earlier in execution, echoing Federal style images. Over 250 illustrations complement Brown's text as she makes fresh stylistic connections among designs, artists, regions, and houses over two centuries, discovering and illuminating some missing links in the history of wall stenciling. Even more, she ties together the shared destinies of the families, descendants, artists, rescuers, and restorers who lived with, created, or have dedicated their lives to preserving, this beautiful art form. She also provides a glossary, a discussion of early paint materials, suggested resources for wall stenciling preservation, and a Who's Who of American wall stenciling which includes 18th, 19th, and 20th century artists and preservationists. The result, as Mimi Handler writes in her foreword, "is a book that fairly hums with life and purpose."
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