Friday, May 27, 2005
Restoration of historic stencil proves rewarding
Owners of older properties frequently choose to renovate decaying aspects of their home rather than restore them. Modern convenience often wins over preservation. Fortunately, that was not the case at 75 Westford Street, historically known as the Fletcher-Robbins house, on a triangle of land directly across from the Town Hall.
In updating an upstairs guest bedroom, homeowner Donna Krapf was inspired by the excellent condition of stenciling underneath the old surface. She contacted Polly Forcier of MB Historic Décor in Quechee, Vermont. The company records, reproduces and sells antique-style stencils for use in restoring old or adding new stencils.
"The previous owner had one of my old catalogues," explained Forcier. According to Forcier, the owner had identified various motifs in the house believed to be from the Moses Eaton collection. Using photographs, Forcier confirmed that the designs at the property were those of Eaton, a well-known stenciler who came to the New England area circa 1800. His son, Moses Eaton, Jr., continued the work. Krapf contracted with Forcier to spend a week at the site this past spring to restore the room's stencils, as well as add a horse design, by Eaton, Jr., over the mantel.
Working together to preserve the past
In conducting any restoration, the homeowner works closely with the expert on the job. Krapf had carefully removed paint chips to uncover the original stencils. Forcier visited the Carlisle site to trace the stencils, and then took the stencils back to her Vermont shop. The design was a modified Eaton one. She recreated the stencil used in Carlisle by consulting the tracings and using her library of Eaton stencils as a guide.
Krapf removed the rest of the paint, and carefully recorded the position of the stencils. She had a painter match the original yellow background as well as possible and repaint the walls, with the exception of one particularly well-preserved, but faded, corner. Forcier then arrived to begin her work. She carefully preserved the original design in the corner with a clear, plastic covering. Forcier used the stencil she had created to replicate the delicate motif around the room. She matched the green and red colors using water-based acrylic paint.
"Powdered paint was used originally," said Forcier, "with glue and chalk to beef up the color."
Forcier worked in green first, and did the horizontal designs. Then she did the vertical ones. There are two main motifs: a green vase with a red bud, and five oak leaves with a heart in the center.
Forcier really enjoys "putting on the second color and having it come to life."
Indeed, the final results are breathtaking. In Eaton's time, the most affluent homeowners decorated their walls with wallpaper coverings. Stenciling was a more modest form of decoration. Cut-outs were used over and over from job to job. Measuring was often done by "eye," and sometimes the designs were modified, adding to the creative and individualistic result of the work. Today, ironically, restored stencils are more greatly valued than wallpaper.
Captain Aaron Fletcher is the earliest known owner of the house. A cellar stone dates the building to 1813. Fletcher, a blacksmith, found time to serve the town as selectman in 1818 and 1819. His house served as a meeting place for those planning the Union Calvinistic Church, known today as the Carlisle Congregational Church. His name appears on the church roll as a lifelong member.
Daniel Robbins acquired the house in 1885. He had fought in the Civil War and was slightly wounded at Spotsylvania. He witnessed the fight between the Merrimac and Monitor, and was present at Appomattox for General Lee's surrender. Robbins married Lizzie Luella Wilson of Billerica, and had seven children. At one point, he added the upper rooms to the property. A stone mason and plasterer by trade, it seems probable that Robbins introduced the Eaton stencils to the walls. The stencil application of the heart, associated with bridal events, led Forcier to surmise that Robbins may have had the room added and decorated as the wedding chamber of a grown child.
Krapf has uncovered additional Eaton motifs in the lower rooms of the house. Robbins did a great deal of work around town, including the Gleason Public Library. It is possible that Robbins applied Eaton stencils at other homes. (Or perhaps his neighbors copied his.)
The enthusiastic Forcier wonders if there are other Eaton walls around town just waiting discovery. The Eaton motifs often include pineapples, willows, and birds. If you uncover an original or modified stencil, you also may have the opportunity to add to the Eaton catalogueand to the value of your property.
© 2005 The Carlisle Mosquito