Saturday, September 5, 2015

Philip's Floor Cloth

by Rebecca Kurtz

When taking a tour of Schuyler Mansion, the first room that you find yourself in is the center hall. The wide center hall provides a decorous introduction to Philip Schuyler’s eighteenth century home. Philip would have been very much aware that this hall was the first part of his house that guests would see, and he was determined to make a favorable impression. Therefore, Schuyler decorated his center hallway with two major pieces; a floor cloth, and a painted wallpaper known as the Ruins of Rome.
Today, the mansion exhibits a reproduction of the floor cloth that Schuyler displayed in the hall. During the eighteenth century, having any kind of floor covering, whether it be a carpet, floor cloth, or even just a small mat next to a bed, was a sign of wealth and refinement. In an English style Georgian mansion, like Schuyler mansion, a center hall would typically boast marble floors. However, little marble was being produced in the colonies at the time, and the price of importing enough marble to fill the hall at Schuyler Mansion could have cost more than the mansion’s actual construction! Schuyler, therefore, opted to decorate his hall with a floor cloth. This was still a major piece for a home, as it was massive and took nearly five years to manufacture.
This 1801 painting depicts a floor cloth
A floor cloth was also generally the most expensive piece in a house. The finest of these floor coverings were assembled in Bristol, England, where they were painted by hand, covered in layers of oils and lacquers, and hung out to dry. Floor cloths were thick and durable, almost like eighteenth century linoleum, which was of utmost importance in Schuyler Mansion due to the central location of Schuyler’s floor cloth, as it would have seen a substantial amount of foot traffic.
The floor cloth that currently lies in the center hallway of the mansion was produced in 2007 by Lisa Curry Mair, whose company, CanvasWorks FloorCloths, produces hand painted floor cloths for
private homes and museums around the country. Given a lack of period documentation, Mair had very little information to go on while creating the floor cloth for Schuyler Mansion. We do know that a floor cloth existed in the mansion in the eighteenth century thanks to documents, such as a letter written by Philip Schuyler’s aunt, which mentions a blue and white floor cloth designed to look like marble. However, no further information is known about the actual appearance of the original floor cloth. Therefore, Mair used her pre-existing familiarity with eighteenth century floor cloths to produce what we have today.
The Mansion's floor cloth being made
The reproduction certainly works to serve the purpose of more fully immersing visitors in Philip’s Schuyler’s home as it appeared in the eighteenth century, and adds an air of elegance to the already opulent home. So, come to Schuyler Mansion some time to enjoy our phenomenal floor cloth. Also, in not too long, visitor’s to the mansion will have the opportunity to behold the Ruins of Rome wallpaper, as a reproduction will be applied to the walls of the center hall as part of our restoration project. Stay tuned for more information about the wallpaper in next week’s blog, and don’t forget to follow us by clicking the 'subscribe' button below!

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