Curator’s Pick

Lincrusta

Visitors often remark on the Dawes House’s beautiful plaster ceilings and richly carved wood walls and mantels, but our lincrusta panels in the Dining Room and Library are frequently overlooked. Perhaps this is because lincrusta, a popular nineteenth century wallcovering, is not as well known today as it was 125 years ago when the house was constructed. Billed as the first “washable wallcovering,” lincrusta was developed by British inventor and manufacturer Frederick Walton in 1877, though Walton is probably better known today for a similar invention: linoleum. Both technologies rely heavily on linseed oil and in fact lincrusta was originally patented as “Linoleum Muralis” or “Linoleum for walls.” Lincrusta is made from a paste of linseed oil on a base of paper that is pressed between large metal rollers that emboss one side of the lincrusta with a three-dimensional pattern. Lincrusta was meant to mimic the labor-intensive, highly desirable effect of three-dimensional plaster decoration, like the plaster so beautifully applied in the Dawes House on the ceilings of the Great Hall and Dining Room. Depending on how the lincrusta was treated, it could also be made to look like carved wood, tooled leather, pressed metals, or even lacquer. However its presence in this house and in other well-appointed late nineteenth century homes like the Nickerson Mansion, the house that today is the Driehaus Museum, suggests that its appeal was more than just as an economical replacement for more expensive materials. Lincrusta represents the excitement and optimism homeowners had towards the new technologies of the late-nineteenth century. To bring lincrusta into your home meant engaging with industry and invention every time you stepped into your dining room.