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Century-Old Artwork Found Behind Paint, Wallpaper

Thursday, March 15, 2018

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Century-old hand-painted tulip designs and other stenciling were recently uncovered at the Illinois-based Hauberg Civic Center Foundation, a historic mansion that now serves as a civic center.

Hidden History

The hunt for history began with a set of old blueprints found last fall, said Hauberg Civic Center Foundation's Executive Director, Deb Kuntzi. One of the blueprints mentioned a design in the master bedroom.

Kuntzi peeled back a corner of the wallpaper in that bedroom, and upon glimpsing the red underneath, she knew she had found something worthwhile—original designs created in 1910 by decorative artist George Mann Niedecken. The designs were painted freehand onto the muslin-covered wall.

Even though Niedecken, who also has creations in a dozen Frank Lloyd Wright homes, served as the decorative artist on the house, Robert C. Spencer was the architect and Jens Jensen was the landscape architect.

The Foundation’s executive director spent several hours removing the dried glue and two layers of latex paint, using water, fabric softener and a scraper, finally revealing an intact, original, hand-painted wall panel. The pink and green latex paint and wallpaper, later additions, were easy to remove once thoroughly moistened, noted Kuntzi.

If oil paint had been used on those later layers instead of latex, it would have set back the uncovering process by $100,000, according to local news station WQAD.

Niedecken’s manual indicates that all friezes in the mansion were done with four coats of oil-based paint, making the design durable and making it possible to remove the latex coating without damaging what was hidden underneath.

The room has 14 wall panels that have yet to be uncovered, although it is believed that similar stenciling of different motifs can be found elsewhere in the house, including the library, the tulip room, the main hall and the dining room.

To assist with uncovering what else the house has to offer, Kuntzi has teamed up with Augustana College professor of art Peter Xiao, who will bring his students to the mansion twice this month to get firsthand experience.

The Hauberg Mansion was built in 1911 for Susanne Denkmann, heir to a lumber baron. Her husband, John Hauberg, was both a lawyer and a philanthropist.


Tagged categories: Coatings Technology; Historic Preservation; Historic Structures; Renovation

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