Chest A Field
Before today’s modern safes, valuables were kept secure within painted wooden chests. This summer, the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, CT brings together six extremely rare examples of early 18th-century American painted wooden chests culled from only about two-dozen surviving examples. The exhibit, “Thistles and Crowns: The Painted Chests of the Connecticut Shore” explores the work of a small group of craftsmen from 1700 to 1740 who created a distinctive group of painted wooden chests in Saybrook and Guilford, Connecticut.
“Colonial chests hold wildly romantic associations today as wedding, dowry, or bridal chests,” says Florence Griswold Museum Assistant Curator Benjamin Colman, “but in reality they were made for practically minded New Englanders. Homes were not as private in the eighteenth century as they are today, so a locking chest was important to keep valuables safe from prying eyes and sticky fingers.”
The six chests in the exhibit come from major national museums and local historical societies. One example is on loan from the Henry Francis Du Pont Winterthur Museum in Delaware and another from the Old Saybrook Historical Society in Connecticut.
The exhibition examines the way these chests were made, the meaning behind their sophisticated decoration, their functions in eighteenth-century Connecticut homes, and their modern legacy. Examples within the exhibit range from small boxes, large chests, chest with drawers, high chests, and chests of drawers constructed from North American woods like oak, pine, and tulip poplar. Each chest is embellished with rich compositions of foliage, birds, vines and flowers brightly outlined against a dark background, they show Connecticut craftsmen adapting a fashionably Baroque sensibility for expressive ornament and decorative surfaces with their familiar tools. Incorporated into these decorative motifs are signs and symbols like Scottish thistles, British crowns, Tudor roses, and French fleurs-de-lis, all carrying specific connotations for contentious political issues when these chests were created.
The exhibition runs from June 7 through September 21, 2014 and has a 72-page softbound companion catalogue available with 74 full-color illustrations for $24.95 from the museum’s gift shop or online.
Florence Griswold Museum, known as the Home of American Impressionism, is located at 96 Lyme Street, Old Lyme, CT, exit 70 off I-95 and is open year round Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 5pm and Sunday 1 to 5pm. Admission is $10 for adults, $9 for seniors, $8 students, and free to children 12 and under.
For more information, visit the Museum’s website http://FlorenceGriswoldMuseum.org or call 860-434-5542 x 111.