Colonial vs. Arts and Crafts Chest

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Oft-mentioned at early Deerfield Arts and Crafts exhibitions, the 'Brides Chest,' pictured on the right, stood as the perfect example of the colonial influence on its early-twentieth-century artisans. The piece is based on the late-17th-century 'AA' chest, one of Memorial Hall Museum's famous Hadley chests, and represents an early collaboration between Edwin Thorn, Caleb Allen and Cornelius Kelley. While the overall form and decorative scheme of the later chest confirms its tie to the earlier example, fundamental changes made to the Arts and Crafts design distinguish its expressive effect from that of the original.

The face of the c. 1690 'AA' chest displays a pleasing sense of balance through its finely-carved and precisely-detailed surface. A row of square panels carved in low relief, sandwiched between the horizontal lip of the chest's lid and a band of relatively heavy shadow molding, combine to form a strong horizontal emphasis. The stiles, or the vertical pieces forming the legs of the chest, are incised with lines that balance a horizontal middle with a substantial vertical presence on either side. All of the 'AA' chest's surface articulation is in a subtle, relatively low relief.

By contrast, the Arts and Crafts 'Brides Chest' has a rustic, even rugged appearance unlike its predecessor. The face of this chest has been simplified by the exclusion of many of the incised lines which afford a sense of balance to the late 17th century example. Irregular chamfered edges surrounding the low relief panels disturb the planar surface of the piece as do the iron strap drawer handles below and the heavy strap hinges on its lid. In the end, the Thorn-Allen chest references rather than quotes its Colonial source.

Left image: Abigail Allis or "AA" Chest, Unknown, Memorial Hall Museum, Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association

Right image: Bride's Chest, Edwin Thorn, Caleb Allen, Cornelius Kelley, Memorial Hall Museum, Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association