National Trust curator Elizabeth Anya-Petrivna admits she’s become a little obsessed with wallpaper.
Over six years she’s followed a dream of recreating a small, three-square-metre version of the wallpaper that adorned Rippon Lea mansion in Elsternwick more than a century ago.
And it looks like her dream might come finally true, with the trust raising $100,000 for the project.
It might seem peculiar today, when most of us paint our house walls, instead of pasting on fancy paper.
But this is not just any wallpaper, nor just any house.
In 1890, the wealthy politician and retailer Frederick Sargood and his wife Julia owned Rippon Lea and wanted to make a statement.
Their quest to impress guests extended to lining the foyer and corridors with the most expensive wallpaper they could find.
They ordered a rare design to be handmade from mulberry plant pulp at an artisan's workshop making 'Japanese Leather' wallpaper in Japan.
Master craftsmen gilded a layer of tin onto the paper surface, which was carved with a peony design and pressed onto cherry-wood blocks to create an embossed look that mimics leather.
The surface was lacquered to turn the tin a gold colour, and the floral detail and pale pink background were hand-painted.
Ms Anya-Petrivna said once placed at Rippon Lea, the effect – combined with mirrors and new electrical light amplifying the wallpaper’s gold – "would have been quite dazzling".
Fast forward to 1938, and times had changed. The then owner, retail heiress Louisa Jones, painted over the wallpaper.
It achieved a coffee-coloured look, retaining the relief of the peonies.
We may gasp now, but Ms Anya-Petrivna says that in Ms Jones' defence, the original wallpaper’s gold hue would have tarnished and the house needed redecorating.
Ms Jones sought a neo-Baroque, "aged" look that was popular in Hollywood, similar to the Regent Theatre in Collins Street.
In the 1950s, a water leak at Rippon Lea from an upper floor bathroom destroyed a three-metre-square patch of wallpaper by the front door.
Today, the Trust doesn’t have the millions of dollars needed to replace and re-create all the original wallpaper.
And the Trust would not destroy the underlying wallpaper, which has heritage value.
But they saw an opportunity to show visitors a little of the splendour of the Rippon Lea interior as it looked in 1890.
The plan was to paste, on the bare patch, a replica of the original wallpaper. They discovered that the Kinkarakami Institute, a small Tokyo workshop, had revived the Japanese Leather technique which was lost for many years.
Ms Anya-Petrivna said it would interpret Rippon Lea in a more "layered and nuanced" way, not just "pickled in aspic" in 1938, the last major redecoration.
The Trust has raised $35,000 from an Australia-Japan Foundation grant and the philanthropic Copland Foundation.
Three samples made at the Tokyo workshop arrived in Melbourne earlier this month.
The Trust hopes to start raising a further $65,000 in a corporate event to be held on Tuesday at Rippon Lea.
Ms Anya-Petrivna, who visited Kinkarakami Institute in 2015 and will attend the soiree, said she could ‘‘talk forever" about the wallpaper.
"I’m really interested in the handmade, and the passion of creators who spent their lives perfecting their technique," she said.
"I think that is an extraordinary dedication.
"It really resonated with me, that personal commitment to something that is so different to what we tend to devote our lives to in the modern age."
Great Article from The Age :