Ancient murals hidden under wallpaper revealed.
The Annapolis Heritage Society officially opened The Painted Room at the Sinclair Inn Museum National Historic Site last Tuesday, showing off wall murals and paintings that were done more than 170 years ago but covered with wallpaper for more than a century since.
The first hint of a mural was discovered in the 1960s, when the owner found it because a leaking roof peeled off the wallpaper on one section of one wall. Most of the 300-year-old building was not being used at that time, and it wasn’t until the Heritage Canada Foundation bought the building and handed it over to the heritage society that members could even begin to contemplate what to do with the second-floor room and what they assumed would be four walls of murals.
But even then they had to wait, because work stabilizing and repairing the building was more pressing. It was only five years ago that the society was ready to do more with the room, and once funding was in place in 2016, work could get underway by conservator Ann Shaftel, who painstakingly removed the wallpaper in tiny pieces to protect the work.
Society president Barry Moody — who was shown the wall when the water damage first happened 50 years ago — said it’s believed the painting was done over a period of about 30 years, and that it covered some previous work because icons of the Freemasons seem to be visible underneath. The building was home to the local lodge meetings in the 1700s.
It’s believed that the walls were first covered with wallpaper in the late 1800s. Moody said they haven’t had the wallpaper analyzed to determine how many layers there were, but “gauging by the thickness, I would say five to 10. Quite a few years of just adding another layer and another layer and another layer.”
He doesn’t think any other rooms have murals. More than $140,000 was required to prepare the room and unveil the murals, as well as produce an interpretive video and material.
“You’re using Q-tips to dampen the paper and take off (tiny) pieces,” Moody said. “That’s months of work by an expert to get to this, and then once you’ve removed the wallpaper you’ve exposed these murals to a very different climate, so you have to make sure you have humidity control.”
The room was never heated in the winter, so the society also had to come up with a heating system that would have minimal heat so the temperatures didn’t fluctuate.
“All of these things are as expensive as the restoration of the paintings themselves,” he said.
Now, he said, the society is ready to try to unravel the mysteries of the paintings. The heritage society has found one record of someone staying at the inn in 1848 who noted that the walls of his room were covered with murals, but nothing else can be found. The artist and the date of the painting is unknown.
The four walls in the room have landscapes, a painting of a train with a steam engine, and a portrait of an officer painted inside a painting of a picture frame. The uniform seems to be a combination of styles, the society says, and it has no idea who the image is meant to depict, if anyone.
Annapolis Royal Mayor Bill Macdonald said the opening of the project is a proud day for everyone involved, and for the town.
“This is a national treasure, the building itself has always been a national treasure, and (the room) is just an embellishment that nobody anticipated. Its discovery was remarkable.”
Barry Moody, president of the Annapolis Heritage Society, shows Faith Wallace of the Department of Canadian Heritage, one of the details in a wall mural at the Sinclair Inn Museum National Historic Site. The murals, which were painted sometime prior to...
A portrait of an officer is one of the works among murals found beneath wallpaper at the Sinclair Inn Museum National Historic Site in Annapolis Royal. The murals which were painted sometime prior to 1848, were uncovered from beneath wallpaper starting...