Restoration of Historic Nissen House continues

Published 12:05 am Thursday, April 14, 2022

By Mandy Haggerson
For the Clemmons Courier

In June of 2019, the Lewisville Historical Society was restoring parts of the inside of the ca. 1876 Historic Elias Nissen House (213 Arrow Lead Drive in Lewisville). The first step to the renovation was to strip the paint in the Nissen family parlor. Fortuitously, Susan Linker, a member of the Lewisville Historical Society, was passing through the home when the painters were hard at work. Linker noticed as they were stripping the paint that stenciling had begun to reveal itself showcasing the original designs on the pine board walls. Immediately, the paint scraping ceased as the Nissen House Steering Committee of the Lewisville Historical Society requested historical curators and the necessary experts to review the remnants of the designs.

Local experts from Old Salem, the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA), and the State Historic Preservation Office assembled to see the newly discovered designs and make their assessments. Local experts, Laura Phillip — author of a recent book on Victorian faux painting and Heather Fearnbach, an architectural historian and author weighed in on the best next steps for proper preservation. Collectively, it was determined that the design remnants were of original faux paintings of tiger maple, bird’s eye maple, and flame maple on the wood panels.

Finding professionals to take on the restoration was a bit challenging as it was at the start of COVID-19. However, the project finally began on March 19, with the help of Mary Aldrich, a decorative painter and project manager from Chapel Hill, and Shanon Wood, a decorative painter from Hickory. Both Aldrich and Wood are graduates of the apprenticeship training program certified by the prestigious City and Guilds of London Institute. “The program was brought to Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College in Asheville by the Biltmore Estate. There we were trained extensively on stenciling, gilding, how to make traditional oil paints, and the actual technique to apply them,” explains Aldrich. Graduates from that program have been sent all over the world to restore history. “One of my friends from the program is working at Mount Vernon currently. And this is probably the closest project I’ve worked on. Back in this time period, to display your wealth you used color in your homes. Even with stenciling, it was used as an attempt to create a paneled and expensive look,” Aldrich said. “Many property owners of the 1800s invited decorative painters to stay at their home while the painting occurred. George Elias Nissen must have wanted his parlor to be a noteworthy place to entertain his guests, as this room was the only one in the house with the decorative painting.”

The curators recommended preserving a part of the original designs and findings on the wall surrounding the mantel. By doing so, the public and visitors will fully appreciate what was uncovered. In addition to the stencil and graining that is being replicated, the wood mantel in the same room is going to be restored with a faux marbleizing design. Not shy from color, it will display bold pink and blue colors.

Merrikay Brown, president of the Lewisville Historical Society, notes, “We are so appreciative of the great job Mary Aldrich and Shanon Wood are doing for us in restoring this amazing faux painting created by the Victorians over 150 years ago. This really puts a crown on the recently restored George Elias Nissen House and helps us in Lewisville understand our history and heritage even more.”

Fellow Lewisville Historical Society member, Susan Linker echoes her sentiments, “What Mary and Shanon are doing in the Nissen House is magical — it enriches and transforms our understanding of the house and the Nissens and gives us access to the things that really mattered to them. We are so fortunate to have found these talented and dedicated artists.”

For additional information on the historic Nissen House, you can visit their website at www.nissenhouse.org and on find them on Facebook at facebook.com/historicnissenhouse/.