Grim stories behind the wallpaper

The ECA’s Conference held in Manchester to coincide with the 2004 AGM was titled ‘Arts, Culture and Lifelong Learning’. The planning that year enabled a further conjunction when delegates were present for the official openings and later treated to a private view of the British Museum’s ’Buried Treasure’, a spectacular touring exhibition of gold and silver artefacts such as the Ringlemere cup and the Snetterton Hoard.

The talks from the curatorial staff showed how impressive these pieces were in both their artistry and technical execution.

However, as another part of the event revealed, there were deeper and more recent treasures still to be explored. In the unlikely environment of a basement store a small group happened on the curator of a secret hoard – original wallpaper samples from a collapsing local industry.

There in seemingly random fashion were display panels, sample booklets, strips of wallpaper of varying width as the move from the broad format, trim-it-yourself varieties progressed to the pre-trimmed vinyl of later years.

Fascinating insight into a long forgotten domestic scene with papers patterned to fit the standard staircases of the 2 up, 2 down homes of the masses.

But horror, we were told that storage was a problem, the venue was an art gallery not a museum. Could the gallery afford to provide the storage space and curatorial expertise that such a collection would warrant?

The answer was some time coming and fittingly was to be found in the pages of that erstwhile Manchester icon, The Guardian.

It appears that the gallery did see it our way after all. Maybe our protestations ‘helped’ just a little. In any event, as reported in the 8th February edition, a new exhibition has now opened at the Whitworth Art Gallery until 3rd May.

The first wallpaper mentioned is described here as “wallpaper as murder scene” however our intelligence is that the reality is altogether more macabre – “murder scene as wallpaper”, intrigued? Go and see for yourself at

By Bernard Godding

Date Added: February 18th 2010