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Hidden beneath paint, a famed artist's wall decorations

Associated Press logo Associated Press 3/9/2017 By MICHAEL HILL, Associated Press
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FILE - This Aug. 20, 2016 file photo shows Cedar Grove, the home of artist Thomas Cole, considered the founder of the famous genre of American landscape painting known as the Hudson River School, in Catskill, N.Y. Not only did Cole paint the lush mountain landscapes that inspired the Hudson River School art movement of the 19th century, he also painted on the walls of his home. Pretty decorative patterns on the walls in the parlor of his Catskill home had been buried beneath layers of paint for more than a century before they were discovered a few years ago. (AP Photo/Barbara Woike, File) © The Associated Press FILE - This Aug. 20, 2016 file photo shows Cedar Grove, the home of artist Thomas Cole, considered the founder of the famous genre of American landscape painting known as the Hudson River School, in Catskill, N.Y. Not only did Cole paint the lush mountain landscapes that inspired the Hudson River School art movement of the 19th century, he also painted on the walls of his home. Pretty decorative patterns on the walls in the parlor of his Catskill home had been buried beneath layers of paint for more than a century before they were discovered a few years ago. (AP Photo/Barbara Woike, File)

CATSKILL, N.Y. (AP) — Not only did Thomas Cole paint the lush mountain landscapes that inspired the Hudson River School art movement of the 19th century, he also painted on the walls of his home.

This Aug. 20, 2016 photo shows a detail of a decorative wall border, and paper stencils being used in their restoration at the home of artist Thomas Cole, in Catskill, N.Y. Not only did Cole paint lush mountain landscapes that inspired the Hudson River School art movement of the 19th century, he also painted on the walls of his home in Catskill. The decorative patterns near the ceiling lines, hidden under layers of paint for more than a century and discovered a few years ago, will be fully displayed when the Thomas Cole National Historic Site opens for the season in May 2017. (AP Photo/Barbara Woike) © The Associated Press This Aug. 20, 2016 photo shows a detail of a decorative wall border, and paper stencils being used in their restoration at the home of artist Thomas Cole, in Catskill, N.Y. Not only did Cole paint lush mountain landscapes that inspired the Hudson River School art movement of the 19th century, he also painted on the walls of his home in Catskill. The decorative patterns near the ceiling lines, hidden under layers of paint for more than a century and discovered a few years ago, will be fully displayed when the Thomas Cole National Historic Site opens for the season in May 2017. (AP Photo/Barbara Woike)

Lost beneath layers of paint for more than a century, the patterned borders below the ceilings were rediscovered several years ago and are now revealed in their semi-faded glory.

This Aug. 20, 2016 photo shows a detail of a decorative wall border being restored at the home of artist Thomas Cole, in Catskill, N.Y. Not only did Cole paint the lush mountain landscapes that inspired the Hudson River School art movement of the 19th century, he also painted pretty decorative patterns on the walls in the parlor of his Catskill home that had been buried beneath layers of paint for more than a century before they were discovered a few years ago. Now curators have painstakingly revealed the stylized depictions of drapery and fabric so they can be displayed when the Thomas Cole National Historic Site opens for the season in May 2017. (AP Photo/Barbara Woike) © The Associated Press This Aug. 20, 2016 photo shows a detail of a decorative wall border being restored at the home of artist Thomas Cole, in Catskill, N.Y. Not only did Cole paint the lush mountain landscapes that inspired the Hudson River School art movement of the 19th century, he also painted pretty decorative patterns on the walls in the parlor of his Catskill home that had been buried beneath layers of paint for more than a century before they were discovered a few years ago. Now curators have painstakingly revealed the stylized depictions of drapery and fabric so they can be displayed when the Thomas Cole National Historic Site opens for the season in May 2017. (AP Photo/Barbara Woike)

The stylized depictions of drapery and fabric, painstakingly recovered by conservators, will be fully displayed when the Thomas Cole National Historic Site opens for the season in May. While not exactly lost masterworks, they offer new insight into one of America's most influential painters.

In this Feb. 27, 2017 image taken from video, art restoration expert Margaret Saliske prepares to work on restoring hand-painted borders at the home of artist Thomas Cole, in Catskill, N.Y. Not only did Cole paint mountainous landscapes that defined the Hudson River School. He painted on his parlor walls in Catskill. The decorative patterns near the ceiling lines, hidden under layers of paint for more than a century and discovered a few years ago, will be fully displayed when the Thomas Cole National Historic Site opens for the season in May. (AP Photo/Michael Hill) © The Associated Press In this Feb. 27, 2017 image taken from video, art restoration expert Margaret Saliske prepares to work on restoring hand-painted borders at the home of artist Thomas Cole, in Catskill, N.Y. Not only did Cole paint mountainous landscapes that defined the Hudson River School. He painted on his parlor walls in Catskill. The decorative patterns near the ceiling lines, hidden under layers of paint for more than a century and discovered a few years ago, will be fully displayed when the Thomas Cole National Historic Site opens for the season in May. (AP Photo/Michael Hill)

"His choice of designs ... are his way of expressing his personality, the way he wanted people to see him and the way he wanted people to see his art," said Elizabeth Jacks, executive director of the site. "It tells us a lot of what was going on in the mind of this person at the time in his life when he was creating these incredible art works."

In this Feb. 27, 2017 photo, art restoration expert Margaret Saliske works on hand-painted borders at the home of artist Thomas Cole, in Catskill, N.Y. Not only did Cole paint mountainous landscapes that defined the Hudson River School. He painted on his parlor walls in Catskill. The decorative patterns near the ceiling lines, hidden under layers of paint for more than a century and discovered a few years ago, will be fully displayed when the Thomas Cole National Historic Site opens for the season in May. (AP Photo/Michael Hill) © The Associated Press In this Feb. 27, 2017 photo, art restoration expert Margaret Saliske works on hand-painted borders at the home of artist Thomas Cole, in Catskill, N.Y. Not only did Cole paint mountainous landscapes that defined the Hudson River School. He painted on his parlor walls in Catskill. The decorative patterns near the ceiling lines, hidden under layers of paint for more than a century and discovered a few years ago, will be fully displayed when the Thomas Cole National Historic Site opens for the season in May. (AP Photo/Michael Hill)

Cole is believed to have painted the borders around the time he moved into the house in 1836 to provide a sort of frame for paintings displayed on the parlor walls. One sunny parlor features abstract folds of a fabric in blue and green; the other features a more elaborate pattern depicting drapery swags.

This Nov. 17, 2016 photo provided by the Thomas Cole National Historic Site shows a decorative border in the east parlor of the home of artist Thomas Cole, in Catskill, N.Y. Not only did Cole paint mountainous landscapes that defined the Hudson River School. He painted on his parlor walls in Catskill. The decorative patterns near the ceiling lines, hidden under layers of paint for more than a century and discovered a few years ago, are being restored and will be fully displayed when the Thomas Cole National Historic Site opens for the season in May 2017. (Jennifer Greim/Thomas Cole National Historic Site via AP) © The Associated Press This Nov. 17, 2016 photo provided by the Thomas Cole National Historic Site shows a decorative border in the east parlor of the home of artist Thomas Cole, in Catskill, N.Y. Not only did Cole paint mountainous landscapes that defined the Hudson River School. He painted on his parlor walls in Catskill. The decorative patterns near the ceiling lines, hidden under layers of paint for more than a century and discovered a few years ago, are being restored and will be fully displayed when the Thomas Cole National Historic Site opens for the season in May 2017. (Jennifer Greim/Thomas Cole National Historic Site via AP)

While Cole did not sign his name on the walls, there's evidence of the master's hand.

In this Nov. 23, 2016 photo provided by the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, art restoration expert Margaret Saliske uses scalpels and solvent to expose a decorative border in the east parlor of the home of artist Thomas Cole, in Catskill, N.Y. Not only did Cole paint mountainous landscapes that defined the Hudson River School. He painted on his parlor walls in Catskill. The decorative patterns near the ceiling lines had been covered over with many layers of paint and were hidden for more than a century before being discovered a few years ago. Now they are being restored and will be fully displayed when the Thomas Cole National Historic Site opens for the season in May 2017. (Jennifer Greim/Thomas Cole National Historic Site via AP) © The Associated Press In this Nov. 23, 2016 photo provided by the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, art restoration expert Margaret Saliske uses scalpels and solvent to expose a decorative border in the east parlor of the home of artist Thomas Cole, in Catskill, N.Y. Not only did Cole paint mountainous landscapes that defined the Hudson River School. He painted on his parlor walls in Catskill. The decorative patterns near the ceiling lines had been covered over with many layers of paint and were hidden for more than a century before being discovered a few years ago. Now they are being restored and will be fully displayed when the Thomas Cole National Historic Site opens for the season in May 2017. (Jennifer Greim/Thomas Cole National Historic Site via AP)

Cole had experience making designs on fabric and wallpaper and had been impressed with the ornate Roman wall decorations he saw on a tour of Pompeii and Herculaneum. A then-rare ultramarine blue pigment points to a painter of Cole's stature. And there are no records of payments made for the work among the household's meticulous financial records.

In this Aug. 20, 2016 photo, a portion of a previously- hidden decorative border, upper left, is visible over a window in the east parlor of the home of artist Thomas Cole, in Catskill, N.Y. Not only did Cole paint mountainous landscapes that defined the Hudson River School, he also painted on his parlor walls. Decorative patterns near the ceiling lines had been covered over with many layers of paint and were hidden for more than a century before being discovered a few years ago. Now borders in two parlors are being restored and will be more fully displayed when the Thomas Cole National Historic Site opens for the season in May 2017. (AP Photo/Barbara Woike) © The Associated Press In this Aug. 20, 2016 photo, a portion of a previously- hidden decorative border, upper left, is visible over a window in the east parlor of the home of artist Thomas Cole, in Catskill, N.Y. Not only did Cole paint mountainous landscapes that defined the Hudson River School, he also painted on his parlor walls. Decorative patterns near the ceiling lines had been covered over with many layers of paint and were hidden for more than a century before being discovered a few years ago. Now borders in two parlors are being restored and will be more fully displayed when the Thomas Cole National Historic Site opens for the season in May 2017. (AP Photo/Barbara Woike)

Cole died in 1848 at age 47, though the home in this village 100 miles north of New York City remained with the family for more than a century. At some point, no one knows exactly why, the border art was covered up by wallpaper and then layers of paint. One parlor had successive coats of green, cream, dark green, light blue, periwinkle and more.

The lost art was discovered after historic paint expert Matthew J. Mosca in 2014 examined a bit of what looked like exposed wallpaper up high in a pantry. A closer look revealed it was a painted design.

"When I got up on a ladder and looked at it, I thought, 'Oh my God,'" he recalled.

The discovery in the parlors followed, and Mosca and art restorer Margaret Saliske began carefully removing decades of wall paint with scalpels and solvent.

Saliske finished uncovering the designs this winter and took up a fine-tipped paint brush for the delicate restoration works. High on a scaffold, she spent a recent morning dabbing in paint where the original work is missing, careful never to overlap Cole's work.

"I'll circle around and bump up against the edge with my color," she said, "but I'm honoring every little piece of paint."

She matched color by eye, mixing paint and ground pigment to get exactly the right intensity and transparency.

Saliske has restored about 5 feet of one border in one parlor and the site is seeking grant money to restore more. The goal is to fully restore three of the four walls in each parlor, giving visitors a sense of both the discovered work and what the walls looked like 180 years ago when Cole gazed at the forested mountains outside his windows.

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