Wallpaper

Drawing upon the long histories of perfuming spaces and decorating the home through wallpapers meant to evoke the natural state of the outside, “Cherry Forever and Ever” reflects on the traditional methods of how nature has been brought into the home through the use of aesthetics. Through associations of both literary characters and health concerns through the Victorian age, wallpaper had developed some associations with the act of concealment, but these connotations have since given way to a celebration of natural imagery, color, and scent being a vastly popular decorative mode within the home.

Cherry Forever and Ever: The Tradition of Preserving Nature Within the Home

“Cherry Forever”—the first commercially available scented wallpaper—made a vibrant mark on the interiors market through the novelty of its “scratch and sniff” surface and its simultaneous nod to the pop art movement and traditional naturalist aesthetics. Produced through a small hand-printing studio in Brooklyn, New York, “Cherry Forever” has all trademarks of a kitschy throwback to childhood, but also draws upon several centuries worth of traditional ways to preserve and bring nature into the home through the fields of perfumery, aesthetics, and wallpaper traditions.

Although the paper debuted in 2007, the tradition of perfume in the home reaches back for millennia. From as far back as ancient Egypt, China, and Greece, perfumes have been used to signify sacred ceremonies and spaces. It has since then been used to ward off and mask illness and foul odors through the middle ages and onward—culminating today in the popularity of automated air fresheners and synthetically scented plug-ins. A key example of one of these manufacturers is Air Wick, which debuted in the United States in 1943 (Kloss). This new form of fragrance hit the market just in time to capitalize on the renewed pride that Americans were taking in their country, the mentality of which extended to a pride in how one would present their home. Scented air freshness was taken a step further with the invention of the Little Trees air freshener in 1954, this time marketed with the specific goals to make available “odor-destroying, air-perfuming substances” for the public. This tradition of scented interiors culminated in the 1970s with the development of the Yankee Candle company, on which Hope Margala (the company’s CEO) had this to say about scent association: ”We’ve found that customers seek out scents that evoke special memories or set a mood in the home, food fragrances that incorporate cinnamon and clove fare well in the fall, pine fragrances during the holidays and fruits and florals in spring and summer.”(Kloss)

While the cherry scent of “Cherry Forever” is probably not intended to be framed in such a utilitarian context, the importance of freshening the home through seemingly natural scents cannot be ignored in the context of this wallpaper. The use of scent addresses such a strong element of believability to something made in nature’s image—through floral perfumes or candles. By taking such an un-natural rendering of cherries, and imbedding artificial scents into the paper, the combination of sight and smell help to elevate this paper beyond a sense of reality—creating fantasy both within the home space and in its fictionalized inspiration of the natural world.

Beyond the importance of scent, the strong history of perfume as it relates to traditional ideas of femininity is vital to understanding this object in relation to gender. The novelty of the scent and Willy Wonka-esque function of the paper hyperbolize the idea of perfume to an abject mimicry of the aesthetic traditions of wallpaper that this piece draws upon. With its symbolic literary connotation of covering up parts of one’s personality or past (as in the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gillman), “Cherry Forever” has modernized this concept with the novelty of capitalism and its sometimes superfluous focus—once again acting as an air freshener might by masking odors in the home. The naturally derived imagery of the fruit ties not only to the floral imagery that is commonly associated with femininity, but also with the sensibilities to the language of flowers and symbolism throughout the naturalist movement. Perhaps the most famous wallpaper designer was William Morris, who was also the designer at the lead of the arts and crafts movement in the 19th century. His patterns transported gardens, foliage, and “exotic fauna” to the insides of peoples’ homes. This time period was full of deeply rooted associations with flowers and the messages that they carried through widespread symbolism. Within the home, wallpaper is firmly classified as a decorative art, a genre that is also often tied to femininity. This brings to mind both the idea of “nesting” a space for a woman’s family and the trope of turning a house into a home.

The necessity of the “angel of the house” transforming a shelter into a place of beauty and comfort is where the traditional roles of gender  begin to intersect with the relationship of femininity within the home, as explored through Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” With the confining nature of the rest cure (something that could only occur for families wealthy enough to spare the labor that the woman would provide), Gilman exemplifies the confinement of the woman within the home as the protagonist becomes trapped within the wallpaper. The woman in the story, prescribed the rest cure by her husband and doctor following the birth of their child, is confined to a room where she slowly is driven mad though inactivity and isolation, and focuses on the “woman in the wallpaper” throughout the story. The wallpaper in this story is scented too, although the odor is described as “That it is like the COLOR of the paper! A yellow smell” (Perkins-Gilman 13). Rather than something pleasant, it is something that the protagonist becomes repulsed by, as well as something that is relatively limited to those with greater disposable incomes. With “Cherry Forever,” this association with wallpaper is broken down a bit through the artisanal nature of the printing company, and the $75-per-yard price tag of the hand-printed paper. The reader learns a lot about the social standing of the family depicted in the story in that they are not so wealthy that they may own it, but wealthy enough to masquerade in that identity for the summer. This read can be gleaned through the following description of the house:

“[It is ] the most beautiful place! It is quite alone… It makes me think of English places that you read about, for there are hedges and walls and gates that lock, and lots of separate little houses for the gardeners and people. There is a DELICIOUS garden! I never saw such a garden—large and shady, full of box-bordered paths, and lined with long grape-covered arbors with seats under them. There were greenhouses, too, but they are all broken now…the place has been empty for years.” (Perkins-Gilman 2)

From this quote, Gilman provides a clear distinction that is established between the health benefits and connotations of the home’s exterior outside, and the processed iteration of nature that the protagonist is forced to consume within the room she is stuck in. By creating a greater contrast between interior and exterior, the un-natural qualities of the paper that are imitating the outside become emphasized in their failings. The attempt to drag figures of nature into the home relates back to the practice of Morris, that he expanded upon through his own practice as did his contemporaries through the help of arsenic-based pigments. As a low-cost way for manufacturers to produce wallpaper with a greater vibrance and longer durability, wallpaper containing arsenic quickly caught on, despite the health risk. Although arsenic was widely used in many household goods at the time, there was some knowledge about the health problems it brought. In Bitten by Witch Fever: Wallpaper & Arsenic in the Victorian Home, Lucinda Hawksley describes the popularity of arsenic at the time, stating, “The public loved the bright colors of the new wallpapers and even when they learned that the dyes contained arsenic they did not consider the wallpapers to be dangerous as long as you did not lick them” (Hawksley 7). Whether licking, scratch-and-sniffing, or breathing in powder from and “creeping” as “The Yellow Wallpaper”’s protagonist did, the physical relationship between the body and wall coverings has historically been less than beneficial for the health of those inhabiting these spaces.

Through the story, Perkins Gilman furthers the literary trope of wallpaper being used to conceal one’s identity, as well as illness. This call of concealment was a task similarly prescribed to perfumes for many centuries both in medicinal practices (notably, throughout the Middle Ages) and in scented aesthetics. Although the yellow wallpaper is not the cause of the protagonist’s illness, the suffocating quality of the paper’s smell, the “torturing” pattern, and the way that the color comes to life off of the wall certainly exacerbate her deteriorating health. This literary connection was published in 1892, and its real world counterpart was brought forth in 1906 by the Tenement House Department of the City of New York when they passed a (largely un-implemented) law that would outlaw wallpaper in tenement housing:

“The hidden ecology of wallpapers was apparently well known…Reformers were convinced that grimy tenement walls created hospitable conditions for vermin…This was because new papers were generally applied directly on top of the old. The cost of redoing a typical, 325-square-foot apartment rarely exceeded a dollar. On the other hand, removing old layers cost considerably more in time and labor. The cellulose in paper, sizing, and paste contains proteins and carbohydrates that attract termites, silverfish, and cockroaches, as well as molds and fungi. Given proper levels of humidity, stagnant air, and dim light, the decomposing old papers and organic adhesives can be transformed into multi layered sandwiches of nutrients for noxious fauna.” (Lenček 13-14)

While this wallpaper referenced by the Tenement House Department did not necessarily contain arsenic, the connotation between wallpaper and depleting health was further re-enforced none the less. A particularly strong image in the above passage is the act of covering and concealment rather than removal. The paper does not age well, its residue will stay with the structure, and new layers will be added like a band-aid as a quick and cheap way of concealing the flaws in the foundation of the space. This “band-aid mentality” ties neatly back to “The Yellow Wallpaper” narrative, and wallpaper’s other appearances in the literary canon. In a further extension, this act of concealment becomes analogous to the performance of gender within the home during this time, and physically manifests through the presentation of social roles.

Although this structure of class and order was rather rigid in the Victorian Era, a lot of these roles would drastically change over the course of the twentieth century. Relating to the hyper-pigmented sticker-like quality of “Cherry Forever,” the pop art movement of the 1960s was a huge catalyst both aesthetically and ideologically. Acting both as a rejection of commodification and a celebration of capitalism, pop art serves as a way to celebrate industry and accessibility of objects. Pop art’s presentation of nature (as in the “Cherry Forever” print) is unapologetically over-processed and hyper-saturated rendering of the motif. As this relationship is explained by Lena Lenček, “Those who’ve got it, flaunt it. Those who don’t, get wallpaper. The “it” in question is an original work of art: a tapestry, painting, sculpture, or precious woods and costly architectural detailing. A product of mechanical means of reproduction, wallpaper has an inherently split personality, at once genuine article and fraudulent pretender” (99). This statement encapsulates the fine line between art and industry on the surrounding sides of the commercial art movement. What is being emphasized is the celebration of everyday objects and their widespread availability.

Although “Cherry Forever” exists firmly in the twenty-first century, its title claim of “forever” speaks to the longstanding history of people attempting to preserve the ideals of nature within domestic spaces. Through its novelty-based call to existence, the wallpaper is such an exaggeration of its own history that it is hard to imagine the saccharine cherry-scent in an actual home—yet it has been coveted by major figures such as Tommy Hilfiger and Dita Von Teese. Coming full circle from pop art to (owned by) pop icon, and from traditions in tenement housing to celebrity homes, “Cherry Forever” says it all. It acts not only as the synthesis of these domestic traditions but also as a subversive offer of how the body is meant to interact with the space around it.

Works Cited

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Hawksley, Lucinda. Bitten by Witch Fever: Wallpaper & Arsenic in the Victorian Home. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson Ltd/The National Archives, 2016.

“History.” The Perfume Society. Accessed March 14, 2018.  https://perfumesociety.org/discover-perfume/an-introduction/history/.

Hoskins, Lesley, ed. The Papered Wall. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994.

 Kloss, Kelsey. “Here’s How Home Fragrances Have Changed Through The Years.” ELLE Decor.  October 09, 2017. Accessed March 14, 2018.  https://www.elledecor.com/life-culture/fun-at-home/a8951/home-fragrances/.

 Lenček, Lena, and Gideon Bosker. Off the Wall: Wonderful Wall Coverings of the Twentieth Century.” San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2004.

 Mitchell, W. J. T. “What Do Pictures Want?” In What Do Pictures Want, 28–56. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Stewart, Jude. “A History of Wallpaper’s Deception.” The Atlantic. April 01, 2016. Accessed  March 14, 2018. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/04/the-deception-of-wallpaper/476295/.

Tannenbaum, Judith, and Marion Boulton Sroud. “On the Wall, February 7 – April 20, 2003.” 2003.

Weinberg, Sarah. “Scratch-And-Sniff Wallpaper Is As Magical As It Sounds.” Delish. February 27, 2018. Accessed March 14, 2018. http://www.delish.com/food/videos/a58427/video-flavor-paper-scratch-and-sniff-wallpaper/.