The back porch of Eells House.

Concerns about the depiction of Indigenous Americans and American descendants of slaves on the wallpaper in Hamilton College's Eells House Keehn Dining Room were raised in the spring of 2022. In response, President David Wippman formed the Eells House Committee (EHC) to make recommendations addressing the issue. During the last two years, the committee, composed of members from the College and community, engaged in extensive research and consultation with various stakeholder groups, including students, alumni, staff, and faculty, in community conversations to gather perspectives on the wallpaper. This spring those conversations concluded, and the committee made several recommendations to President Wippman, which have been accepted.

The wallpaper, titled "Vues d’Amérique du Nord," originally created in 1834 by Jean-Jacques Deltil and Jean Zuber, is an early example of French panoramic sets. It was initially installed in Eels House in 1924. When the facility was renovated in 1999-2000, the original wallpaper was in poor condition, and it was determined that restoration was not possible. It was then replaced with a new set of the same wallpaper. The wallpaper presents an idealized or utopian vision of 1830s America, which the EHC found to be particularly difficult to contextualize within the context of a student residence hall. Community conversations also highlighted the ways that representation in the wallpaper can be problematic for members of our community, especially in the absence of active instruction to lead difficult conversations.

At the conclusion of their community conversations with stakeholders as well as research with other institutions that also have responded to concerns about the same wallpaper on display, the EHC's final recommendations included the professional removal and preservation of the wallpaper. One complete set will be retained for educational use, accessible through the College Archives. 

Upon the removal of the Vues wallpaper, the committee recommended expeditiously restoring access to the Keehn Dining Room with modifications to the room scheduling, including making the room reservable for general student use. The room will retain Alpha Delta Phi's access for monthly dinners and be reservable by community members for special events. The Vues wallpaper will be replaced with Isola Bella, also by Zuber and produced with the same production techniques, while at the same time closely approximating the room's current aesthetics. An information plaque will be placed at the dining room's entrance to recognize its historical significance.

The committee also emphasized the importance of including an indigenous perspective in the decision-making process and expressed hope for future opportunities to represent local Oneida Indian Nation and Haudenosaunee cultures on campus. The EHC's recommendations aim to make the dining room a space that promotes belonging, while preserving its historical and aesthetic value.

For more information regarding the committee's work, please contact Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Professor of Anthropology Nathan Goodale (ngoodale@hamilton.edu).  

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