Work being done in the Asa Packer Mansion Museum in Jim Thorpe recently revealed a hidden historic treasure, something that had not seen the light of day for well over 100 years.
Ironically it was discovered exactly 132 years after the death of the man who had the house constructed – Asa Packer.
Discovered beneath wall paper, which was put up between 1886 and 1893, is the original wall covering from the home's construction. But this was not just some old wall paper.
What it revealed was a novel technique of wall painting known as "Trompe-l'œil," an art technique involving extremely realistic imagery. The depicted objects appear in three dimensions while the wall surface is perfectly flat, creating an optical illusion.
'Trompe-l'œil" is French for "to fool the eye".
Ronald J. Sheehan, Executive Director of the Asa Packer Mansion Museum, noted that a $500,000 grant allowed the Jim Thorpe Lions Club to take care of some of the restoration and preservation of the interior of the home, including heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, as well as the front porch restorations.
Specific interior work included the ceiling and woodwork and the windows and shutters in the Master Bedroom; windows, shutters, and trim in the Blue Room; carpeting, trim, windows, and ceiling in the Red Room; and total restoration in the Butler's Room being ceiling, walls, flooring.
"We found a company that would completely reproduce the carpeting exact for each of those rooms. While they were taking the wallpaper down in the Blue Room, they uncovered beautiful stenciled painted walls underneath the wall papering," Sheehan said.
"We believe now that the stenciled painting of these rooms is throughout the bedrooms of the home because we have noticed in areas where wallpaper has come off in other rooms that there is some stenciling work.
"This stenciling work is so far intact that we are now going to disband our idea of wallpapering that room and we're contacting different companies that will do restoration of the painting."
Ava M. Bretzik, the Mansion's Director and Historian, noted that through the dating of the wallpapering, with a signature of Mary Packer Cumming's husband Charles H. Cummings, we now know that the wallpapering had to have been put on the walls during the years 1886 and 1893.
"The design in the blue room is very 1860," she said. "Most people have it (Trompe-l'œil) done with wallpaper but the people who could afford it would have it painted on. It has the illusion of being 3-D.
"I think it is remarkable that it was discovered on Asa's date of death – May 17th. Like a hidden treasure."
Sheehan said that this is an ongoing project.
"We are not going to tear the wallpaper off the walls in the other rooms, however our future plans are to restore any of the rooms that have the stenciling when the wallpaper gets so deteriorated that it has to come off," he stated "Over the course of time as the wallpaper needs to come off we will restore back to the original stenciled walls.
"We have found no evidence that there are any layers of paint underneath these stencilings and it would have been appropriate for the time of 1860 for stenciled paintings to go on walls. Therefore, we believe these are the original coverings from when the home was first constructed during 1860-1861."
As for other restoration work, Sheehan also noted that the porch restoration project went out on bid on June 6, with a completion date of Sept. 30.
"It's a complete restoration of the porch, the under-supports, the railings, and also they will be redoing all of the porch skylights. That project is expected to cost about $90,000," he said.
If you would like to see the newly-discovered piece of historic artwork firsthand, the Asa Packer Mansion Museum is open during the summer, seven days a week with tours from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For more information, visit www.asapackermansion.com.