We’re still coming across surprising finds in the Neebor Lee house more than two years after moving into the house. Yesterday I took a short break from renovating the home’s third floor bathroom to help my wife organize a walk-in closet occupying a small room located next to the bathroom. In moving a floor to ceiling shelving unit to create more storage space in the closet, we uncovered an interesting full-wall wallpaper frieze (mural). I’ve previously seen only small sections of this wallpaper by peering through the shelving unit, but I had never seen the frieze in its full unobstructed glory. It covers the upper two-thirds of the wall, from the height of the room’s chair rail molding right on up to the ceiling. It also covers the full width of the wall and a small portion of the adjacent wall.
The frieze depicts a Revolutionary War battle and is a fairly well detailed, with militiamen firing their muskets from behind a stone wall and a soldier on horseback apparently providing them with commands. In the background on the left of the frieze is a village, with a church steeple prominently in view. An open field and woods appear on the right side in the background, which is the direction in which the militiamen are firing their muskets. The enemy, presumably British Redcoats, are not shown; the battle is seen from the perspective of the militiamen.
Curious about the origin of this wallpaper, I conducted an online search to see what I could uncover. What my search revealed was that this was a wallpaper frieze manufactured by a company that operated in Cleveland, Ohio called Schmidtz-Horning Company. The wallpaper pattern was called “The Minute Men” and I suspect that it depicts the Battle of Concord at the start of the war. The Schmidtz-Horning Company operated from 1905 to 1960 and specialized in the the production of wallpaper friezes using the largest zinc printing plates then existing in the country. With these plates they were able to print images that were 80″ x 40″ in area, thereby producing full wall murals. They produced many different types of friezes, but most of which appear to have been nature themed. As far as I can tell, this was their only frieze depicting soldiers or a battle, although they did produce another frieze depicting the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock. Even more interesting is the discovery that another copy of the “The Minute Men” wallpaper is currently part of a wallpaper collection held at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City. Apparently, I have a little bit of wallpaper art history hanging on my closet wall.
Unfortunately, the version in my closest does have some damage; a part of it had been covered by wallboard spackle, likely to fill in an old hole in the plaster wall. In addition, at least two of the frieze’s panels are missing on the left side of the frieze, one which depicts a wife kissing her husband as he is about to run off to join the fight and another panel that depicts a boy running to his father, who if plowing a field, in order to hand him his musket so that he, too, could join the fight. This frieze oozes in patriotic symbolism.
I thought that it was unusual to find this on a closest wall, which perhaps suggests that the room was not always a closet. It is not unusual, however, to find wallpaper in old homes that contain plaster walls. Such walls became brittle and often crack. A common solution to this problem was to simply cover the cracking walls with wallpaper. No matter how this room was used in the past or the reason this wallpaper was selected to cover this particular wall, we’re still going to preserve it. It will again be hidden between closet shelves and floor cabinets (I still need the storage space), but it will remain untouched.