One thing leads to another for artist/printmaker Andrew Raftery. Here is the story of his printed wallpaper project.
Printmaker Andrew Raftery worked eight years designing, etching, printing, and transferring his prints onto a set of ceramic plates, which he and his students had also designed. The result was a set of 12 plates. Each represents a different month of the year; and all of them together present a visual narrative of a year in the life of a garden and its gardener. Raftery’s ambitious series, entitled Autobiography of a Garden, is a widely acclaimed masterwork.
But when it came time for the long-awaited exhibition of this work, Raftery felt a disconnect between the cold white walls of the gallery setting and the intimate, domestic atmosphere suggested by his engraved plates. Patterned wallpaper seemed like the perfect solution, so he created his first handprinted wallpaper, titled Spring Salad, a cool-toned design of leafy mustard greens that provided a more apropos backdrop for displaying the plates.
“My ongoing goal is to bring the contemporary to the historic and live inside it.”
— Andrew Raftery
Known for his penchant for historical research and deep dives into subject matter, Raftery continued his investigation of wallpaper design. Scenic, hand-painted woodblock printed wallpaper was popular, particularly in France, and was embraced in American well-to-do homes in the 18th century. The most famous scenic wallpaper manufacturer was the Frenchman Jean Zuber whose factory opened in 1797. It took 20 engravers several years to produce their first paper, Views of Switzerland, in 1804. Raftery adapted the cyclical theme he followed in his plate engravings to his wallpaper design producing four patterns, one for each season of the year. This project revealed Raftery’s powerful color sensibilities and rhythmic feel for pattern which had been unexploited in his previous black and white figural engravings.
A Perfect Setting
In 2018 Raftery found the perfect setting for his transferware collection, his wallpaper designs, and his art. He and his partner, Ned Lochaya bought the 1765 Powder House, an historic home in Providence, Rhode Island used to store gunpowder during the American Revolution. The rough white plaster walls of this house provided the ideal surface for the application of Raftery’s printed designs. The artist evaluated the light and atmospheric qualities of the rooms in order to match the mood with the corresponding wallpaper.
The Summer room is papered in a bright, contrasting mix of geraniums with pinkish-red and green coleus, one of Raftery’s favorite plants, “because it seems printed.” When he used it on the walls of this modest room he was, “surprised that such an intense pattern actually made this small room seem bigger.”
The Spring room is covered on the north and south wall by a pattern of repeating purple irises on top of a rainbow-like effect of blended color. Dan Wood, a printer in Providence worked with Raftery to execute these complex printing challenges on his Heidelberg Press.
The Autumn room is the darkest space in this area of the house. Raftery’s nocturnal scene of lush foliage in pinkish moonlight against a deep blue starry sky is far from the usual fall associations of oakleaves and acorns.
Raftery’s propensity for storytelling extends to the description of his wallpaper patterns. Walking from the warm October evening depicted in the Autumn room, Raftery rhapsodizes, “the Winter room offers the blinding brightness of a sunny morning after a nighttime snow.”
“Living inside these rooms has been fascinating.”
— Andrew Raftery
Around the Corner
Raftery may be done with wallpapering the Powder House but he’s not done with exploring printed wallpapers. His next project takes him outdoors. He’s been drawing in plein air along historic Blackstone Boulevard in Providence in preparation for a scenic wallpaper journey that will encompass moments along the entire 1.6-mile walking path. He’ll also be conducting research on installed scenic wallpapers at the Winterthur Museum Garden and Library. We look forward to seeing how Raftery reinvents this historical craft to present his unique personal vision tied to a particular contemporary place and time.
Andrew Raftery has earned many awards, including the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in 2008, the John R. Frazier Award for excellence in teaching from RISD in 2007, the Boston University Distinguished Alumni Award in 2007, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Purchase Award in 2006, the Louis Comfort Tiffany Award in 2003 and the Fritz Eichenberg Fellowship in Printmaking, Narrative Engraving Project from the Rhode Island State Council for the Arts in 2001. He was elected to membership of the National Academy in New York City in 2009. Learn more about Andrew Raftery at ryanleegallery.com.