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Archwood foyer: 1834 America with a French twist

September 24, 2000

From an artform dating back to 1797, a French wall hanging was installed Sept. 20-22 in the foyer of Archwood, an historic home on the campus of Austin Peay State University.

Titled “Les Vues de L'Amerique Du Nord” (“Scenic America”) and block printed in 18 colors from 767 wooden blocks, the “scenic” (also called a Zuber) was designed in 1834 by Frenchman Jean-Julien Deltil.

It is from the Hillsboro Road home of the late Eddie Rabbit of Nashville, a well-known performer and prolific songwriter. It was given to APSU by Rabbit's widow, Geanie, through her interior designer, Mary Jenkins of Rutledge Interiors, Nashville.

According to Jenkins, several years ago there was a fire in the Rabbit home and, during restoration, “Les Vues de L'Amerique Du Nord” was replaced by another scenic. Mrs. Rabbit requested that “Les Vues” be placed in an historically appropriate location.

Jenkins looked at several historic buildings in Tennessee, settling on Archwood. She said, “After the tornado damaged Archwood, we decided that is where it should go. It ‘fits'within the era that Archwood was built. We were thrilled to give it to Austin Peay.”

Jenkins said a wall hanging such as this is different than regular wallpaper and requires special skills for installing. She said, “A Zuber is artwork people pass from generation to generation, so it is created in a way that makes it possible to put it up and take it down, much like you would a painting that is passed from one generation to the next.”

The same wall hanging, according to Jenkins, has been hanging in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House since former First Lady Jacquelyn Kennedy had it installed. In her research, Jenkins has been unable to locate others in the United States.

According to Jenkins, there are only two companies in the United States that can install a Zuber. One is in California. The other, in Johnson City, was selected because of the outstanding reputation of Jim Yates, who has installed scenics in many famous locations, including the White House and the Hermitage in Nashville.

The cost to install such a scenic, according to Jenkins, is $20,000. However, Yates installed the Zuber in Archwood as a gift to the University.

Archwood was built in 1878 by Samuel Rexington, a prominent businessman. By the 1890s, the house was owned by various faculty of Southwestern Presbyterian University. After Southwestern moved in 1925, the house went through several transitions until it became the APSU President's Home in 1965. In 1980, it suffered fire damage. Once renovated, it was used for faculty offices until it sustained significant damage from the January 1999 tornado.

As of September 2000, Archwood has been restored to its original glory. Its style is the Italianate Villa form, which was popular in the Gilded Age, with elongated door and window arches. Designed to be airy and open, the front rooms have 14-feet ceilings.

Now covering Archwood's spacious foyer, the scenic has a retail value of about $40,000, excluding installation. It was designed so it could be divided into five pictures:

    *Panels 1-6: New York Bay
    *Panels 7-13: Military Review at West Point
    *Panels 14-21: Boston Harbour
    *Panels 22-27: Red Indian “Pipe-of-Peace” Dance
    *Panels 28-32: Niagara Falls.

The scenic at Archwood was printed with the original 1834 wooden blocks.