Art School(ed): A survey of Providence’s wallpapers

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Our story begins with the Eliza Ward House on the corner of Benefit and George. At night, the perceptive pedestrian might notice a glimpse of something peculiar through the window: a series of panoramic wallpapers in the house Joseph Brown, a founder of Brown University, built and designed the house for his daughter, Eliza Ward, in 1814. Ward had commissioned the woodblock-printed, full color scenes from Dufour & Cie, a French manufacturer of painted wallpapers and fabrics, and they remain to this day (thanks to thorough restorationists). Panoramic scenes transform the Bosphorus Room and the Incas Room into 19th century marvels. While the wallpaper titled “Les Rives du Bosphore” (On the Banks of the Bosporus) is loosely based on palm tree-laden landscapes of Turkey, the panel above the fireplace mantel depicts a pine-treed scene from Maine, reflecting Ward’s personal affinity for the northernmost New England state. The print “Les Incas” portrays an imagined scene of explorer Francisco Pizarro’s first encounters with the Incas. (For a more in-depth explanation of the house’s history and restoration process, check out Houzz’s Room of the Day article on the Eliza Ward House.)

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It comes as no surprise that Providence, an industry town formerly bustling with textile mills, is home to a spectacular array of wallpapers. The Old Court Bed & Breakfast, located on Benefit Street, deserves the award for the greatest variety of wallpapers per square foot. Their stairway and lobby feature an overwhelming pattern that carries through all three floors, while the breakfast room and the bedrooms boast their own prints:

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Vampire Weekend’s next album cover?

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These personality prints can even be found in quirky off-campus apartments inhabited by students on the historic East Side:

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The RISD museum plays off of the city’s traditions with their own grand scale installations of floor-to-ceiling wallpapers. On temporary display, contemporary Scottish artist Martin Boyce has designed a wallpaper for When Now is Night, his first solo exhibition at an American art museum. This wallpaper covers the first room of his show, and makes reference to the grid Saul Bass uses in his opening sequence for Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. It seems only appropriate that Boyce kicks off his exhibition like a film editor, appropriating geometries from filmic opening sequences.

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As part of the permanent collection, there are of course Andy Warhol’s patterned technicolor cows, arguably the most Instagrammed piece in the museum. This installation shares a hallway with two other wall pieces, including Do-Ho Suh’s “Who Am We?,” an illusionary repeat of minuscule portraits the artist made of his friends and family:
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Even the food joints around Providence have caught the wallpaper bug. See: Harry’s Bar & Burger’s Holstein cow paper, a graphic spin on a Warholian subject.

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More interested in murals? Once you’ve whet your appetite with Shepard Fairey’s installation of Angela Davis at Nice Slice, Art School(ed) has you covered with a piece on Zio Ziegler’s collaboration with Brickway and a tour of the Dean Hotel.

Images via, via, and via the author.

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