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Curio

Wallflower

By Anna Maria Gillis | HUMANITIES, May/June 2008 | Volume 29, Number 3

As photo slideshows on the Internet make ever more worthy imagery available, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum uses a similar tack to advance its mission of presenting the variety of immigrant and migrant experiences on Manhattan’s historic Lower East Side. At 97 Orchard Street, the address of the museum's historic tenement building, the present has been peeled back to expose many layers of the past.

In 1994, paper conservator Reba Fishman Snyder conducted an ‘archaeological dig’ for the Tenement Museum. The site of Snyder’s research was not an ancient catacomb or hidden vault-it was the very walls of 97 Orchard Street. With tiny metal spatula in hand, Reba Fishman Snyder examined the many layers of paint and paper adorning these decades-old plaster walls. Snyder would soak the paper and carefully remove small patches for analysis. These samples, some with faint designs, some with maker's marks, and others with barely smudged designs were then examined on-site or taken to a lab for analysis. Now preserved in the Tenement Museum's collections storage, these samples offer a window into the history of 97 Orchard Street.

About the Author

Anna Maria Gillis is managing editor of HUMANITIES.