JAFFREY NH — While frosted maple branches bend and bow down under sparkly snow, and evergreen wreaths circle the snowbound bandstand on the town common, across Main Street, indoors at Sunflowers Cafe, abundant gardens and flowering trees open up the dining rooms. Peach blossoms, climbing roses and plum blossoms rise into heavenly blue skies in a protected paradise, in wallpaper. The art show Walls in Bloom: The Hamlen Collection by Holly Alderman continues through December.
On exhibit for the first time, The Hamlen Collection presents exemplars of the finest antique wallpaper in the world, scenes hand painted in early 19th century China by gifted storyteller artists in Guangzhou (then Canton), recently renewed in fine art digital facsimiles for wide wallpaper and framed art and fabrics.
A closer look reveals the gardens host a flamboyant menagerie, a pageant of high comedy. On the ground, two mirthful ivory ducks joke and laugh, suave pheasants stroll and chat, droll mandarin ducks debate, egrets stretch and step around lotuses, and white bamboo leaves frame vignettes above. Visitors may join the conversations for real time walkabouts in the highly decorative idealized world of auspicious symbols for harmony and happiness, good fortune and wealth, longevity, loyalty, peace, prosperity, humor, wisdom and serenity.
Discover the dragonfly hovering in the blue by walking back and forth to look high and low around from angles near and far. Find a grasshopper smiling alert on a lotus pad. Watch a parrot unwind backwards over chrysanthemums, a kingfisher glide and squirrels scamper. A kiwi stares at a butterfly, birds dive-bomb, an acrobatic golden pheasant plays upside down by morning glories, slowly as if moving with the viewer, forever, in the wallpaper.
From the late 18th century through the mid 19th century, ateliers painted chinoiserie wallpaper gardens and landscapes for export to England and North America, to be the epitome of glamour in royal palaces and grand estates, treasured today by descendants, designers, connoisseurs and museums. This sublime wallpaper with blue background compares stunningly to original walls hand painted on silk, commissioned by the Prince of Wales in 1784 and preserved in the Prince Regent Suite at Brockett Hall, a UK National Trust property north of London.
Three years ago Dev Hamlen explored innovative potential to share his heirloom garden walls with new audiences and preserve the artists’ legacy in a new way to retain unique patina, to look very old yet be a model of sustainability. Hamlen's great grandfather Nathaniel Hamlin of Boston had sailed from Long Wharf, beginning at age 21, on voyages on the clipper ship Union to trading ports in India and the Far East where he bought the Chinese wallpaper for his family. Letters to Nat from his father, mother, and sister survive as poignant narratives, with selections, portraits and maps of ocean journeys in a notebook at the exhibit. They moved from Boston to Wayland in 1872 to build Mainstone Farm, first a dairy farm and today with a herd of grass fed belted Galloways, a pen for pigs plus five acres growing vegetables for a farm stand beloved in the region. Nat’s wallpaper masterworks were fortunately safe from sunlight for over a hundred years, partly by being forgotten in a barn attic about 70 years, rediscovered and installed the dining room for enjoyment of generations and later removed by Dev for conservation and preservation in digital scans.
Alderman began electronic imaging custom wall decor at the National Academy Museum Mural Fellowship in New York in 2004. She introduced antique French digital Dufour wallpaper in 2008 and another French masterwork in 2012, with custom installations in London, Palm Beach, Lake Forest, Manhattan, Istanbul, Washington, Baltimore, Georgetown, Olympia, Houston, Las Vegas, Colorado Springs, Paris, Puerto Rico, Dublin and Jaffrey and shows in Bangkok and New York.
Bespoke editions and framed art canvas are made in the United States by digital printers at Wallquest in Wayne, Pennsylvania, one of the foremost manufacturers in the US and the world with exports to sixty countries.
Since the earliest days of civilization, walls told stories. In the hands of a great storyteller, an old story becomes new. Special thanks go to Dev Hamlen for the imagination to reconsider lost art as antiques anew.