6 Works of Art That Were Hiding in Plain Sight

An ancient angel mosaic on a wall of the Church of the Nativity
An ancient angel mosaic on a wall of the Church of the Nativity
THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images

Earlier this year, an 1820 facsimile of the Declaration of Independence turned up in Texas. Despite once being owned by James Madison, it had been shuffled among the papers of a family who eventually forgot about its provenance and came to consider it "worthless," at least until its recent authentication. As one of only 200 facsimiles created by printer William Stone, it was a rare document, but what made headlines was a curious footnote in the document’s journey: It had been hidden behind wallpaper during the Civil War as protection.

There’s something tantalizing about a precious object concealed by wallpaper or painted over; it suggests treasures might be hiding anywhere—maybe in our own homes. Here are a few stories of art that's been lost, and found, on the same wall, hidden beneath wallpaper, paint, and plaster.

1. ANGEL MOSAIC // PALESTINE

Conservators who began restoring the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2013 after centuries of neglect were prepared to clean its mosaics from years of soot and grime. They weren’t expecting to find new ones.

Using a thermographic camera, one restoration worker noticed a shape in the plaster walls. When the team started chipping off the material, they found the brilliant glow of mother-of-pearl tiles. Soon an 8-foot-tall angel was revealed, dressed in a flowing white robe, its golden wings and halo as luminescent as when they were installed in the Crusades era. It’s believed that the angel was covered up following an 1830s earthquake, perhaps to hide damage. Now the lost seraph (above) has rejoined the procession of radiant mosaic angels who are walking to the nativity along the church’s historic walls.

2. MEDIEVAL MURALS // WALES

Mediaeval wall paintings, Llancarfan church, Wales
Chris Samuel, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

During the Reformation, the murals in Catholic churches of the British Isles were often covered with plaster, turning them into more austere Protestant spaces. In covering them so entirely, this art was sometimes inadvertently protected from centuries of decay. In 2010, conservators announced an incredible find in the 800-year-old Church of St Cadoc at Llancarfan in Wales.

Church staff had long been intrigued by a thin red line of paint on the wall. After conservators began the painstaking work of removing 21 layers of limewash, a dramatic painting of St. George slaying a dragon appeared. The discoveries continued with scenes of other popular medieval motifs, such as the Seven Deadly Sins, a royal family, and "Death and the Gallant," in which a rotting corpse with a worm creeping in its rib cage leads an elegantly dressed man to his mortal end. The murals are now on view for all to enjoy.

3. BRETON GIRL SPINNING // FRANCE

Paul Gauguin, "Breton Girl Spinning"
Paul Gauguin, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Now at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, French artist Paul Gauguin's 1889 Breton Girl Spinning is an enigmatic fresco of a young girl dancing at a small tree. In one hand, she is spinning wool; in the distance, above the water and shapes of ships, a huge angel with a sword is flying. In part because of this angelic figure, the painting is sometimes called Joan of Arc.

The work was painted right on the plaster dining room wall of La Buvette de la Plage, an inn in Brittany, France. After being forgotten under layers of wallpaper, it and two other murals (one by Gauguin and one by his student Meijer de Haan) were rediscovered in 1924 during some redecorating.

4. MAYA MURALS // GUATEMALA

While updating their kitchen around 2007, Lucas Asicona Ramirez and his family in the Guatemalan village of Chajul discovered some old interior design—Maya murals, hidden for centuries beneath the plaster.

The roughly 300-year-old artworks in the colonial-era home featured figures in both Maya and Spanish attire, representing a moment of European arrival. One may be holding a human heart, or possibly a mask used in a dance. Ramirez hopes to turn the room into a museum, but needs more funding. Other households in Chajul also have historic murals in their homes, and some are striving to conserve these memories of their ancestors even while local preservation resources are limited.

5. WILLIAM MORRIS RED HOUSE MURALS // ENGLAND

The 19th century British artist and writer William Morris is celebrated for his textiles, writing, wallpaper, and other work in the Arts and Crafts movement. The house in Bexleyheath, Kent, that architect Philip Webb designed for him and his wife Jane in 1859 was intended not just as a home, but an incubator for art. The "Red House" became a hub for like-minded artists, and Morris founded “The Firm”—which produced decorative objects such as stained glass and furniture—there in 1861 alongside several other artists. However, the Red House community was short-lived, and financial difficulties forced the family to move out in 1865, never to return.

When the National Trust acquired the house in 2003, they found that the group had left behind some of their artistic experiments. Behind a wardrobe, under layers of paint and wallpaper, the trust made a most extraordinary find: a full wall of almost life-size biblical figures. Researchers believe they were collaboratively painted by Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, his wife Elizabeth Siddal, and Ford Madox Brown, all of whom were major artists in the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

6. AMÉRICA TROPICAL // UNITED STATES

Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros had just been expelled from Mexico for his leftist activities when he arrived in Los Angeles in 1932. Local boosters commissioned him to create a mural on the theme of "Tropical America" on the touristy Olvera Street, which was an idealized vision of a Mexican market, but he had no interest in portraying some folkloric fantasy. “For me, 'America Tropical' was a land of natives, of Indians, Creoles, of African-American men, all of them invariably persecuted and harassed by their respective governments,” he said in a 1971 documentary.

His América Tropical: Oprimida y Destrozada por los Imperialismos, or Tropical America: Oppressed and Destroyed by Imperialism, was a moody landscape with gnarled trees clawing at a Maya temple. At the center, an indigenous man is crucified, with an American eagle ominously descending over his head. Innovative techniques such as airbrushing gave the tableau a visceral edge.

The 18-by-82-foot act of subversion was soon whitewashed. Still, many people did not forget it, especially as Siqueiros became recognized as one of the most influential of the early 1900s Mexican muralists. Eight decades after it was painted, the city of Los Angeles, along with the Getty Conservation Institute, began a restoration. The whitewash had protected its details from sun and rain and finally, in 2012, its defiant scene was again revealed to the public. It is now the oldest mural in L.A., and the only one by Siqueiros in its original location.

You Can Rent a ‘Lisa Frank Flat’ in Los Angeles on Hotels.com

Hotels.com
Hotels.com

If you went to elementary school in the 1980s or 1990s, chances are there was at least one piece of Lisa Frank gear in your classroom. The artist's aesthetic helped define the decades, and wide-eyed, technicolor animals still hold a special place in the hearts of millennials. Now, you can live out your childhood dream of having a room that looks like the inside of your 3rd grade backpack: a penthouse suite inspired by Lisa Frank is now available to book in Los Angeles.

The Lisa Frank Flat, a collaboration between Lisa Frank and Hotels.com, screams nostalgia. Each room pays homage to the settings and characters in the artist's vast catalog. The bathroom is painted to look like an underwater paradise, with shimmering dolphins swimming in a pink and blue sea. The kitchen is stocked with snacks from your childhood—like Gushers, Pop-Tarts, Pixy Stix, and Planters Cheez Balls—and painted in bright, rainbow animal patterns that will reflect how you feel when your sugar rush peaks.

Lisa Frank bathroom.
Hotels.com

Lisa Frank kitchen.
Hotels.com

In the bedroom, the colors are toned down only slightly. A light-up cloud canopy and a rainbow sky mural create a soothing environment for falling asleep. And if seeing Lisa Frank around every corner makes you feel inspired, there's a place for you to get in touch with your inner pop artist. The desk comes supplied with pencils, folders, and a notebook—all branded with Lisa Frank artwork, naturally.

Lisa Frank bedroom.
Hotels.com

Lisa Frank desk.
Hotels.com

Interested in basking in the glow of your childhood hero for a night? Online reservations for the Lisa Frank Flat at Barsala in downtown Los Angeles will be available through Hotels.com starting October 11 and lasting through October 27. You can book your stay for $199 a night—just don't forget to pack your Trapper Keeper.

11 Apps That Will Make You Feel Smarter

Deagreez/iStock via Getty Images
Deagreez/iStock via Getty Images

Encased beneath the delicate surface of your smartphone is what seems like practically all the knowledge in the world, both past and present. This is, in a word, awesome. It’s also, in a different word, overwhelming. Deciding you’d like to take advantage of that unfettered access to learn a thing or two is easy—deciding where to start isn’t quite so straightforward. To jumpstart your quest to pick up some information without making any serious financial or time commitment, we’ve assembled a list of apps that will definitely make you feel smarter, no matter what topic you’re interested in.

1. Today in History

This free app takes the daunting yet admirable goal of “wanting to learn more about history” and breaks it up into daily digestible pieces that cover events, births, deaths, holidays, and more from a variety of time periods and places. You can browse by category—technology, entertainment, science, and sports, to name a few—or you can visit the “events” tab to see a timeline of important events from years past. The stories are paired with engaging images, and you can personalize notifications to occur just once a day or much more often. In addition to helping you fill in the gaps of your historical knowledge, it’s also an often-heartening daily reminder of just how far we’ve come in the world (and great fodder for water-cooler conversation when you have nothing to say about the weather).

Download: iOS

2. TED

In the last several years, TED Talks have become an extremely popular way to learn about topics you may not have thought to seek out on your own. Having said that, you don’t necessarily have time to watch a TED video every time one appears on your Facebook timeline. The TED app is a perfect way to keep track of the latest and greatest TED videos on your own time—you can see what’s trending, get personalized recommendations, download videos for offline viewing, and save videos to your own watch list. There’s even a “Surprise Me!” feature that will offer you a video recommendation outside of your interests.

Download: iOS, Android

3. DailyArt

Even if you can pick a Picasso painting out of a lineup, how deep does your art knowledge really go? DailyArt educates art aficionados and rookies alike by serving them one artwork each day from a collection of more than 2000 pieces, complete with all of its basic information and history, plus some interesting behind-the-scenes details about the artwork and/or artist, too. You can swipe through past days’ entries, explore more than 700 artist biographies and information about more than 500 museums, and even bookmark artworks to your own list of favorites. It’s a low-investment way to foster a passion for art, whether or not you have one to begin with.

Download: iOS, Android

4. Flipboard

In a world where you end up completely behind the times just by neglecting to check a certain app for a few hours, it can feel impossible to stay on top of what’s going on. Flipboard makes it easy by aggregating both news and social media in one streamlined place. You decide which news sources and topics will appear in your feed—from there, all you really need to do is flip through the content, and Flipboard will update your feed based on what you interact with and suggest other topics you might be interested in adding. There’s also an even simpler “Daily Edition” feature, a daily roundup of the top stories from each category.

Download: iOS, Android

5. Lumosity

Lumosity begins with a 10-minute “Fit Test,” a series of three games that evaluate cognitive ability in areas like memory and attention span. It then uses your scores to devise a personalized brain-training program with games guaranteed to improve those scores. While information-based apps help you fill your brain with new knowledge, Lumosity helps you feel like you’re actually expanding your brain’s boundaries in ways that will make daily life easier. For example, if you specify that you’d like to work on losing fewer objects and better remembering people’s names, Lumosity will offer you a game that targets those areas of your brain. And, since you probably have a few minutes to kill every day while waiting for a bus to come or water to boil, why not give your brain a little exercise?

Download: iOS, Android

6. Vocabulary.com

This app—which both TIME and Fast Company called “addictive”—is worth the one-time cost of $3 for its dictionary alone, which includes definitions, helpful notes about how the word is usually used, and example sentences pulled from actual news articles. In addition to the dictionary, the app boasts an algorithm-based system for learning vocabulary where you play games to earn points and collect achievement badges. There are also more than 50,000 word lists that you can choose from, which cover everything from GRE prep to words in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

Download: iOS

7. NASA

Between the recent 50th anniversary of the moon landing and the ever-present hope for a Mars landing (not to mention all the space-related movies, both Star Wars and otherwise), NASA is definitely hot right now—and its app is a great way to stay awestruck and in-the-know. In addition to featuring more than 17,000 images, 360-degree videos, launch updates, and breaking news stories, it also includes a tracker for the International Space Station (ISS), and it’ll even send you notifications when the ISS is visible from your location.

Download: iOS, Android

8. National Geographic’s GeoBee Challenge

The description of National Geographic’s GeoBee app opens with “This is a challenging game, so it's not for beginners...but do keep in mind that the National Geographic GeoBee is meant for kids in grades 4-8. Are you smarter than a 4th grader?” Though you’re probably not entering an elementary school geography bee any time soon (or ever), this app will help you find out how you’d fare as a participant—and, of course, give you the opportunity to improve your knowledge of world geography. After a few rounds of answering multiple choice trivia and locating places on an interactive map, you’ll never again feel lost while reading international news headlines.

Download: iOS, Android

9. Daily Random Facts

With an average of 4.8 out of 5 stars from about 20,000 Apple user reviews, this Monkey Taps app practically needs no other endorsement. By just reading a sentence or two every day, you’ll quickly build an impressive arsenal of the type of grab-bag information that’ll make you everybody’s first choice for their trivia team. The app includes interesting facts about history, science, sports, life hacks, animals, the human body, and more—all you have to do is enable push notifications (or remember to visit the app every day on your own).

Download: iOS, Android

10. TheSkimm

If someone bottled that heavenly feeling of knowing what’s going on in the world and sold it to you for $3 a month, would you buy it? That’s basically what TheSkimm has done. Every weekday morning, the app feeds you need-to-know, nonpartisan news stories that’ll only take you about five minutes to consume. In addition to the daily digest, you can also listen to audio episodes that cover important news, read longer stories that break down complex topics like immigration and Brexit, and even get book, movie, and recipe recommendations. Not only does TheSkimm make you feel like you’re capable of understanding basically everything, it also does a great job of explaining how and why global news is relevant to you.

Download: iOS, Android

11. iNaturalist

When you stop to smell the flowers, the iNaturalist app will tell you what kind of flowers you’re actually smelling. Snap a photo of any plant or animal in your area, and iNaturalist will use crowdsourced image data to identify the species. With more than 400,000 users, there’s a good chance iNaturalist already has enough images of your mystery organism to provide you with the correct answer—but if not, you can also chat with knowledgeable scientists and naturalists within the app who may know the answer themselves. And, of course, it works both ways: Your uploaded images will help other curious observationalists identify flora and fauna in the future, and you can even explore the map to see which species have been logged around you.

Download: iOS, Android

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