John Ashbery also has described the ways his aesthetic developed through looking at walls. Although he is known well for his art criticism and has, as one might expect, a wonderful art collection, the inspiring walls he describes, unlike Stein’s, are bare of paintings. In a 1980 review of a wallpaper exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum for New York magazine, Ashbery writes: “Many people’s first aesthetic experience is triggered by wallpaper, and it is usually the illusionistic, break-through-the-wall kind. One of my earliest memories is of trying to peel off the wallpaper in my room, not out of animosity but because it seemed there must be something fascinating beyond the surface pattern of galleons, globes, and telescopes” (Reported Sightings, 383)
the Hudson house there is a lot of wallpaper. The choices of pattern, however,
are not exactly the child-like, peel-off-the-paper kind that he describes in
this review, but they do provide a direct link to a feeling of childhood.
of the Hudson house wallpapers, particularly on the second floor, are William
Morris prints. These prints connect
Ashbery to the very Victorian, nineteenth-century aesthetic that he remembers at
his grandparents’ home and that helped inspire his choice to buy the Hudson
house. In a 1985 interview, Ashbery
explains: “I never intended to buy a house but then I saw this rather lovely
nineteenth-century house, which was very cheap.
It reminded me of my grandparents’ house where I lived when I was a
child in the city of Rochester. My
grandparents were both born in the 1860s.
They were actually Victorian people and I spent a lot of time with them….I
was always very attracted to the coziness and the gloom of Victorian life, and
always felt very much at home in that environment.” (P.N. Review). That environment was very much an interior
one; in Eccentric Spaces (1977), Robert
Harbison identified why William Morris’s wallpapers epitomized Victorian
interiority: “Ruskin and William Morris for all their allegiance to plants
forms were not really happy till they had brought the leaves inside and got
them down on paper” (20).
are a few examples: First, William
Morris’s “White Pimpernel” Print--in the context of the master bedroom (in Ahndraya Parlato's photo) and in a close-up: