Wallpaper Portraits Illustrate Akron’s History and Personalities

'If This Wallpaper Could Talk'

“What’s your wallpaper story, morning glory?”

Karen Starr and Shane Wynn won a 2016 Knight Arts Challenge grant. Their project? Wallpaper. (Ok, it’s a little more involved than that.)

“One morning I was preparing for an appointment with a long-term interior design client,” Karen recalls. “Over the years, this particular client and I had enjoyed adding fun and funky wallpaper accents to various rooms throughout her home. So I was daydreaming all about wallpaper.”

Karen was also thinking about how Akron has such a rich history and connection to wallpaper. And the idea to tell stories through wallpaper was born. Karen dreamt of a “beautiful coffee table book, all about Akron’s wallpapers and the history of the papers and the homes they are in.” It would also feature the people who choose and love the papers. She would name it “If This Wallpaper Could Talk.”

Shane Wynn and Karen Starr of 'If This Wallpaper Could Talk' (photo courtesy of Shane Wynn)
Shane Wynn and Karen Starr of ‘If This Wallpaper Could Talk’ (photo courtesy of Shane Wynn)

As soon as the idea of the book flashed in her head, Karen knew who she wanted to photograph the portraits of people standing in front of their wallpaper: Shane Wynn. Karen and Shane have been involved in many arts-based community projects together throughout the years. And they’re good friends. Karen says, “I love Shane’s unique way of capturing the essence of not only people but also spaces. She was definitely the person I wanted to co-create this book with.”


Karen is the co-owner of Hazel Tree Interiors on Market Street in Downtown Akron. She could have chosen a different decorative feature through which to tell stories. However, she chose wallpaper. “I’m fascinated by it!” Karen feels that “you can tell a lot about a city’s heritage and collective personality from the style choices of its residents. Wallpaper is a medium that allows people to express their personalities, affluence, creativity and sense of style.”

This fall, “If This Wallpaper Could Talk” won a 2016 Knight Arts Challenge grant. The next step is to raise matching funding within a year. Karen says local foundations that appreciate projects that intertwine arts, culture and history have already expressed support: “We’re hopeful to raise most of the matching funds with their help.” Karen also has some fun fundraising event ideas to help gain support for the project in other ways. 

They plan to have the book available by the end of 2018. Part of the proposal to Knight Foundation also included the unveiling of a photo exhibition at the John Brown House during one of Summit County Historical Society’s Free Community Forums in the Maple Valley Neighborhood. The photo exhibit will also be displayed in the Akron-Summit County Public Library and perhaps other places in Akron.

Daniel Allyn from Chop & Swizzle, one of the first wallpaper stories for 'If This Wallpaper Could Talk'
Daniel Allyn from Chop & Swizzle, one of the first wallpaper stories for ‘If This Wallpaper Could Talk’

But first they need the stories. Karen and Shane already have a list of growing possibilities they started forming with the book idea and from submissions they received through the project’s website. They also get ideas from everyday conversations they have with people. Karen says that as soon as they tell people about the book, “they’re almost certain to say something like, ‘Oh! That makes me think of this wallpaper…’ ”

In late January, they’ll launch a social media campaign to find even more wallpaper candidates. You’ll be able to share your #wallpaperselfies on social media to potentially be included in the project. While you’re at it, follow the project at @ifthiswallpaper on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram


Karen also recently formed Akron Craft + Social Club with fellow “crafty Akron gals” Jennifer Davis and Mary Bethel. The women host “parties with a purpose” — events that are more than a typical wine and canvas night. The club’s mission is to give back in three ways: (1) give a fun and fulfilling creative experience to ourselves, (2) create a beautiful gift to give to another (or to ourselves!), and (3) give a donation to a local charity.

Akron Craft + Social Club events teach participants a new craft method that they can then do at home. Each event — which has a theme according to the month it’s hosted in — benefits a charity that coordinates with the theme. In November, they hosted an event called “Oh, Give Thanks!” in which participants made custom bleach-dyed dinner napkin sets and wire napkin rings. The charity they chose for that event was Gennesaret, an all-volunteer non-profit that shelters homeless families and feeds the poor. “They do a huge 5k fundraiser race every Thanksgiving Day in Akron, so they were a good fit for the theme of the month!” Karen said.


Karen’s final words? “Buy art. Buy local.

If you want to learn more about If This Wallpaper Could Talk, visit the project’s website.  

Want to know when the next Akron Craft + Social Club event is? Like their Facebook page for updates.  

Title image features (L to R) Victoria Jackson, Shane Wynn, Karen Starr, Kyle Kutuchief (courtesy of Shane Wynn)