In August 2000 I visited Historic Deerfield, in Deerfield, Massachusetts USA, a historic village, also the site of the Deerfield Academy. We only had time to tour four of the houses on the organised tours and I was surprised to find The Savages of the South Pacific or better known as The Travels of Captain Cook scenic wallpaper in the entry of the Asa Stebbins House. I should have know better because it was noted as a location in Cook’s Log, page 1150, vol. 18, no. 2 (1995). See also page 967, vol. 16, no. 4 (1993) and page 1459, vol. 20, no. 4 (1997) for articles on the scenic paper.
The Stebbins House was built in 1799 in the provincial colonial style with brick construction. The house was acquired by Henry and Helen Flynt in 1945 and restored to its original condition to the extent possible. In her book Historic Deerfield - A Portrait of Early America, Elizabeth Stillinger writes: “The walls of the lower and upper hallways are covered with a vivid pictorial wallpaper that came originally from the Ruel Williams house in Augusta, Maine. The Flynts knew that such wallpapers had been used in Deerfield during the Federal period - in fact, another French scenic paper remains on the walls of the parlor of the E. H. Williams house - and they felt it would be appropriate in the home of one of Deerfield’s wealthiest citizens. The Stebbins House paper, made in France between 1804 and 1806 by Joseph Dufour, titled Les Voyages du Capitaine Cook and is the earliest of the great scenic papers produced by the Dufour firm. In advertising the Captain Cook paper, Dufour claimed that besides being extremely decorative and introducing buyers to exotic native regions, scenic wallpapers served a didactic purpose in teaching children history, geography, and botany.” The book has a picture of the lower hallway and another over from the balcony at the top of the main stairway where more than half of the wallpaper is in a complete section, including Cook’s ships in Hawaii (panel-8).
I asked Penny Leveritt, the Historic Deerfield photographer and archiver, if I could get pictures of the paper suitable to present in Cook’s Log. After its prior use in Maine and its adaptation to the entryway in the Ada Stebbins House it was difficult to show it all. Penny replied that I should examine the images of this wallpaper in The Image Base of The Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, M. H. de Young Memorial Museum where a complete set of the 20 panels is installed in a circular room. Images of panels 1-10 and 11-20 are on each side. Go to their web site http://search.famsf.org to view the images; click on ‘Go To Thinker’ and enter ‘Charvet’ (the designer) in the ‘Thinker ImageBase’ keywords box at the bottom of the web page.The scenic paper consists of 20 panels, each 20 pouce (inch) wide, and three 90 cm sheets high, with total height 2.70 m (8 ft 10 in). The scene is loosely based on reports from James Cook, La Pérouse, and other travellers. It was designed and painted by Jean Gabriel Charvet for publisher Joseph Dufour in Macon, France.
The images can be downloaded in different resolutions and I chose a set of 90 images. These were assembled in a graphics program to reproduce the web site images. The panels 1-10 are displayed inverted left to right and that was corrected. With Adobe Photoshop I extracted the image for each of the 20 panels, and used distort and shape tools to correct the perspective to that of a flat wall. The images, presumably from photographs, were dark at the sides and bright in the center because of the difficulty of illuminating the curved display. Brightness correction tools improved these effects. The clone tool masked the break lines between the panels that are individually mounted. The result are shown in the accompanying images.
The numbers 1-20 identify the panels as numbered by Dufour in his descriptive booklet “Savages of the Pacific Ocean” that is translated in Chapter XIII of Historic Wallpapers - From Their Inception to the Introduction of Machinery by Nancy McClelland. Dufour’s source material was mostly from the multi-volume Abridged General History Travels by M. de la Harpe to which the reader was referred for “…a fuller explanation of each of the events represented…”
The panels show a combination of many historical events. A summary from the booklet is:
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 1827, volume 24, number 2 (2001).
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