"The house itself was almost as structurally sound as it is today, but it was separated and shuttered seemingly against all time. The things inside were left just as they were many years before.” -Weeks Hall Tape #11, April 30, 1953. In 1922, when Hall undertook the preservation of his ancestral home, he demonstrated a respect for the historic integrity of the Shadows and for its documentation that was in keeping with the standards being observed by the emerging preservation profession. He meticulously recorded in both photographic and narrative form the changes that he made to the Shadows to make it habitable for modern living, and he had the foresight to transfer from the trunks in the Shadows’ attic to the archives at Louisiana State University the thousands of letters, invoices, and receipts that make up the bulk of the Weeks Family Papers.
In our restoration and preservation work since 1985, we have drawn not only from the Weeks Family Papers, but from a microscopic analysis of the paint layers throughout the structure that identifies original finishes, from an inventory (discovered in 1985) that lists the house’s furnishings and contents when David Weeks’ estate was settled in 1846, from architectural artifacts, from paintings and periodicals of the historical period, and from preservation technology that is being employed to analyze and combat physical threats to the structure.
The dining room restoration is an example of how information from all these avenues comes together to form the picture. The colors and finishes of all painted surfaces of this room are those that were revealed in the analysis of the nearly dozen layers of paint that had accumulated over 150 years. The first layer of paint on the wooden mantel and baseboards shows green veining over a green-black background to resemble marble. An artisan who specializes in these graining techniques re-created finishes resembling both wood and marble throughout the house in applications that match the original finishes as closely as possible. We have carefully matched the various shades on all the painted surfaces in the dining room to those that are shown on the analysis.
The window treatments in this room are a wonderful example of how clues from several kinds of evidence combine to create the picture. On a cypress cornice tucked away in the attic eaves, we uncovered a Greek-key style wallpaper border that a wallpaper conservator identified as a popular pattern of the 1840s. After the conservator carefully removed the border, we had a carpenter duplicate the wooden cornices in cypress and had the wallpaper border reproduced, reaching after several tries a color match that allowed for the original’s fading over time. From a January 5, 1835, invoice from Hyde and Gleises on Chartres Street in New Orleans, we know that Mary C. Weeks purchased 38 yards of red drapery fabric for $29.25. With all of the notions needed, the hooks and eyes, the thread, the linen tape, the bill was still under $50.00. From Henry Sargent’s The Dinner Party, a painting done in the 1820s depicting an elegant dining room setting, we drew together an appropriate curtain design. It is important to remember that even though this plantation was located in a rural area, the steamboats that plied the Bayou Teche and traveled to New Orleans made the styles and markets of the world open to the family.