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Sidewall (USA)

This is a Sidewall. It is dated 1830 and we acquired it in 1985. Its medium is block-printed on handmade paper. It is a part of the Wallcoverings department.

This wallpaper shows a view of New York harbor as seen from Castle Williams on Governor's Island. The design features a landscape view that alternates with an eagle bearing an E Pluribus Unum banner. The paper is woodblock-printed in grisaille or shades of gray with a green filigree running through the design that outlines and connects the different elements. The foreground of the landscape view shows a sentry walking around the base of Castle Williams, a nearly circular fort built between 1807-11. Castle Williams was considered to be a state of the art fortification and remained influential in fortress design for decades to come, so it makes sense to include this structure in a patriotic wallpaper. A variety of large and small vessels sail the harbor including paddlewheel boats and tall ships. The Manhattan skyline can be seen in the distance. This print of the eagle is based on the Great Seal of the United States, whose eagle clutches a banner in its beak, carries thirteen arrows and an olive branch in its talons, with thirteen stars overhead, all symbolizing the original thirteen states. Twenty stars appear over this eagle’s head, and if symbolic, could date the paper at 1817 when Mississippi became the twentieth state.

Landscape views appearing on wallpaper designs were frequently copied or inspired by period prints. There was a note on this object’s catalog record stating this was most likely the case with this wallpaper. Knowing some of the key elements of this scene I went onto the Museum of the City of New York’s website and found a very similar view of New York harbor as viewed from Governor’s Island dating to 1820. The sentry walks around the fort, ships are sailing in the harbor, Manhattan can be seen in the distance, and the rolling waves have been replaced by barrels and other items on shore.

This object was featured in our Object of the Week series in a post titled A Wallpaper View of Early New York.

This object was donated by New York State Historical Association. It is credited Gift of New York State Historical Association.

Its dimensions are

71 x 55 cm (27 15/16 x 21 5/8 in.)

Cite this object as

Sidewall (USA); block-printed on handmade paper; 71 x 55 cm (27 15/16 x 21 5/8 in.); Gift of New York State Historical Association; 1985-15-1

This image is in the public domain (free of copyright restrictions). You can copy, modify, and distribute this work without contacting the Smithsonian. For more information, visit the Smithsonian’s Terms of Use page.

If you would like to cite this object in a Wikipedia article please use the following template:

<ref name=CH>{{cite web |url= |title=Sidewall (USA) |author=Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum |accessdate=10 June 2023 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution}}</ref>