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Stenciling - Stencil House- Parlor, Shelburne Museum.
Stencil House- Parlor, Shelburne Museum.
Stenciling is not
a new method of design in a household. In fact, stenciling can be traced back to the Chinese and early South Sea Islanders. In this country, it has been around for at least 250 years. One of the earliest Moses Eaton type patterns was discovered in 1778. The floor patterns predate the wall patterns. A booklet with geometric and floral floor patterns was exhibited in Europe in 1739. Stenciled floor cloths became popular 1810-1870.

In colonial days when wallpaper came in vogue, stenciling was used by the population that could not afford the wallpaper or carpeting to cover their wide plank floor boards. In order to decorate the bare walls and empty floors, a new group of itinerant artists began their artistry of stenciling. They traveled through villages and towns of New England. As the popularity grew during the Federal Period (1780-1830), the itinerants began to carry their portable stencil kits to the states of Maine, New York, Indiana, and Ohio. One of the more prolific stencil artists that traveled throughout New England was Moses Eaton. Eaton was born 1753. He moved from Needham, Massachusetts to Hancock, New Hampshire in 1792. This was close to the port of Boston where most of the European fashions started their debut in the new country. Shortly thereafter Eaton began his artistry talents. Many of his stencils are still evident in Dublin, Peterborough, Hancock, and the surrounding villages of New Hampshire.

Stenciling - Bedroom - Mose Eaton wall stencil.
Bedroom - Mose Eaton wall stencil.
Moses Eaton Jr. was born in 1796. He became an apprentice under his father's tutelage before going out on his own. Both men stenciled together at the Joshua Eaton House in Bradford, New Hampshire around 1824. The stencil kit of Moses Eaton Jr. was discovered in the attic of his house in Dublin, New Hampshire by Janet Waring upon his death. The kit consisted of eight brushes, seventy-eight patterns, and vermillion paint.

Janet Waring continued to study the art of stenciling and eventually published a book Early American Stencils on Walls and Furniture. Those patterns of Moses Eaton can be purchased today from Polly Forcier of MB Historic Decor in a booklet titled The Moses Eaton and Moses Eaton Jr. New England Collection CIRCA 1800-1840. There are a total of 68 stencil patterns attributed to father and son.

Stenciling - Stencil House- Dining Room, Shelburne Museum.
Stencil House- Dining Room, Shelburne Museum.
During the Federal Period, stencils were used on architectural features such as doors, chair rails, and mantels to accentuate the features. Furniture makers also began to use stencil patterns on their furniture. Through the use of bronze powders and varnishing, they could produce more elegant designs. Stenciling along with frakturs most likely influenced the Mahantongo Valley and Soap Hollow furniture makers of Pennsylvania.

Stencils of today are commonly made from mylar, a flexible, washable material that can be used multiple times. The stencil designs are limitless. You can either order the pattern you like or with an X-acto knife, you can produce a pattern of your own.
Stenciling - Details from the Stencil House.
Details from the Stencil House.
Stenciling - Untouched original stencil from the Stencil House.
Untouched original stencil from the Stencil House.
Stencils can be placed on a painted or color washed wall to give it a three dimensional look. Stenciling continues to be the perfect choice for designers who want to the artistry of fine hand painting at an affordable price. The article in the How To section gives details on wall stenciling. Future articles will bring floor stenciling, and canvas floor cloths. Check back again.

Source: Research & text by Bryan Wright

Related Links:

MB Historic Decor

Comments (1) 
kreiss
05/26/12
beautiful stencils !

so intricate... Give me ideas for our hallway!
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