Paint Decorated Poplar Storage Chest
Almost Certainly African American Southern States Origin
23 3/4” x 37” x 17”
Ref. # kit49
Poplar storage chest competently made by a person who was not a trained cabinet maker within the mid 19th century. Fully nailed butt joined cabinetry yet sturdy and straight after having been in service for over 150 years after creation. Found in a Lexington, Kentucky estate. Lid was never hinged though machine-cut nail holes travel across the front and back of the top and upper front and back edge of case revealing the chest was temporarily sealed in the distant past. Thoughtful extraction was afforded the chest when removing 18 nails with the area surrounding the nail holes showing little distress. A detail image reveals four cut nails laid in a rectangular format with remnants of heavy paper beneath which likely held a shipping address on a side exposure
Though sharing the same molding format, back was never painted, indicating the intended usage was furnishings, not an elaborate shipping crate. The likely motive for nailing the lid would have involved a freight shipment within the 19th century. Lid, sides, and front painted by a superb colorist. Evidently cherished as losses to front and sides are minimal, yet lid’s paint is now mostly gone due to wear whereas the frontal views exhibit commendable stewardship. Paint loss to top was recognized, and a clear sealer was applied to the lid during the chests pre-collection tenure, preserving what little paint remains. Thankfully there was not a need to coat sides and front which display brilliantly. The clever artist employed (never glued) two board construction on the carcass with a single board bottom and a single plank breadboarded lid.
The maker applied a strip of wood (deeply incised at top and bottom of the band) to conceal the gap between the boards on the front, back and sides. A similar double line of a incised decorative appointment may have been observed by the maker on the front edge of shelving commonly found on case furniture made a generation earlier. Whatever the inspirational source a successful detail which was repeated at the vertical corners covering the end grain cut of the sides and front. This molded division allows two belts of a decorative field which have been tastefully coordinated.
Seldom is found a cobbled furniture form which is sound, square, and excellent visually. Aside from previously mentioned condition occurrences, the only loss is a partial 6” loss of the horizontal banding at a front lower corner. That missing chunk reveals a dark oxidized surface behind the loss site indicating an early trauma, which might indicate a blow when shipped considering the good house-keeping otherwise. Never have I yearned to know the story of a furniture form as this example. The top belt of decorative devices can loosely be associated with designs having origin from Western Africa which may indicate this maker was not many generations removed from home.