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Blanket Chest

Origin: America, Virginia, Eastern Shore
OH: 24 3/4"; OW: 56"; OD: 20"
All components of yellow pine.
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1930-108
Appearance: Six-board chest format; rectangular top with thumb molding across front and side edges; additional molding nailed to bottom of lid where it overhangs sides; wrought iron strap hinges replace cotter pin hinges which originally held lid to case; back consists of two horizontal, butt joined boards that are rabbeted to receive the case sides (thus exposing ends of back boards); each side consists of typical stile-and-rail construction with a single, square raised panel; front consists of two long rails and four short stiles that frame three panel groups; central front panel group consists of two diagonally crossed rails flanked by four triangular raised panels ("St. Andrew's Cross"); right and left front panel groups each consist of four astragal rails centering a lozenge-shaped raised panel and flanked by four roughly triangular raised panels; corner stiles on all sides continue below case to form supports on to which shaped bracket feet are nailed; base molding nailed to lower edge of case on front and sides; case painted bright green (now oxidized to blue) and all panel moldings picked out in white.

Construction: The lid is composed of two butt-joined boards. Thin cleats are nailed to the underside of the lid at both ends, and integral moldings run along the leading edges. The lid was originally mounted on cotter-pin hinges. The front and sides of the chest consist of raised panels resting in grooved stiles and rails, which are, in turn, mortised-and-tenoned together and secured with wooden pins. The back is made of plain horizontal boards. The side panel assemblies are nailed into rabbets on the front panel assembly and the backboard. The butt-joined bottom board rests within the chest and is secured with nails, the heads of which are concealed by the applied base molding. Mitered at the corners, the front bracket feet are nailed to downward extensions of the stiles that frame the front and side panel assemblies. They also are nailed into the underside of the base molding. The side faces of the rear feet are similarly attached, but there are no rear faces.
Label:One of the finest surviving chests from the Eastern Shore of Virginia, this yellow pine example retains most of its original blue and white paint. It epitomizes the Eastern Shore tradition of raised-panel furniture construction, which combines ancient joinery practices with elements of contemporary eighteenth-century design. Except for the least expensive storage chests, most southern examples made after about 1725 were joined with dovetails. The case of this chest consists of independently paneled frames rabbeted and nailed together at the corners, a technique more often associated with the fabrication of interior architectural woodwork.

The chest diverges from conventional cabinetmaking traditions in other significant ways, including the structural details of its feet. On most contemporary case furniture forms, including chests, the carcass is supported by blocks set inside the foot brackets. Here the stiles of the front and side panel assemblies extend down to the floor and serve as primary foot blocks to which the decorative brackets have been nailed. Other Eastern Shore raised-panel case pieces, among them CWF clothespress 1968-750, exhibit corresponding construction. The same is true of paneled architectural walls, where downward extensions of the stiles support the great weight of the assembly and the base molding is merely an applied ornament.

Patterned on plates XXIII and XXVI in William Salmon's influential design book PALLDIO LONDINENSIS (1755), popular for much of the eighteenth century, the intricate paneling pattern on the front of the chest reflects the hand of a woodworker with advanced carpentry skills. The matching outer sections are each composed of two curvilinear V-shaped stiles that are through-tenoned into the top and bottom rails and flank a central lozenge-shaped raised panel. Each unit is surrounded by four additional free-floating quadrant-shaped panels. This complex construction is best seen when viewed from inside the chest. The central section exhibits similar details except that the crossed rails are lap-joined at the middle and mitered at the ends to fit the framing stiles and rails. So popular were these elaborate paneling patterns on the Eastern Shore, that one artisan from the region painted a diminutive unpaneled chest to suggest the presence of raised panels (MESDA research file 10,367).

At present, the CWF chest cannot be attributed to a particular maker or district on the Eastern Shore. Moreover, the production date of the object is later than its outward appearance would suggest, partly because Eastern Shore woodworkers rigidly held to earlier craft traditions for long periods. While some raised-panel chests from the area date as early as the second quarter of the eighteenth century, others, including this one, were made about 1800, evidence for which is found in the maker's use of both wrought and cut nails, the latter not being available until the 1790s. The retention of earlier craft customs on the Eastern Shore parallels the conservative tendencies of artisans in other agrarian communities. It also reflects the limited development of urban centers and trade specialization there, where residents, particularly in the post-colonial period, imported much of their more formal furniture from Chesapeake ports like Norfolk and Baltimore.
Provenance:The chest was purchased in 1930 at the auction of the Philip Flayderman collection in New York City. According to Flayderman, the chest was found in Westmoreland Co., Va.