The other box with a drawer, without its drawer. How’s that for confusing?
Here’s two shots I got years ago from Trent of the “other” Thomas Dennis box w drawer. But it’s been chopped down & its drawer is missing. This one’s in Historic New England’s collection, published in one of the books I mentioned last night – Brock Jobe and Myrna Kaye, New England Furniture: the Colonial Era (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1984)
What’s even better is that there is documentary evidence that Thomas Dennis made this furniture form – there’s a deposition in the Essex County Court Records, cited in the Irving Lyon articles also mentioned last time:
“March 28, 1682 Thomas Dennis deposed that Grace Stout bought a carved box with a drawer in it of him in 1679 and it had two locks, ” for which he was paid 2/6.
(2 shillings, 6 pence – more than a day’s wages…but not 2 days’ wages. Then there’s the price of the locks to consider…)
Here’s a detail from the Bowdoin one just so we can have them both in mind. For me, the exciting stuff about Dennis’ best carvings is the great variety. Never repeats, even thought the “vocabulary” is clearly evident.
A while back I was up in Maine to take part in a program at Bowdoin College Museum of Art. Huh? I hear you ask – why is Follansbee at Bowdoin? Because their collection is mecca to the study of Thomas Dennis’ carved oak furniture.
They have not one, not two, not three – but four pieces of oak furniture THAT DESCENDED FROM THOMAS DENNIS’ FAMILY.
This time, my focus was on the box with drawer in the collection. I had seen it published many times – but the text was always about the family history of the box, never about its construction. I had never seen good enough views of it opened to understand the format.
Here’s Bowdoin’s excellent photo of the box:
Bowdoin’s credit line runs thus:
William Searle (School of Thomas Dennis); Carved Box with Drawer, 1665-1700
oak; 14 3/16 in. x 25 9/16 in. (36 cm. x 65 cm.)
Bowdoin College Museum of Art, bequest of H. Ray Dennis; 1989.42
(the box is currently on view in their galleries in the exhibition “The Object Show: Discoveries in Bowdoin Collections,” through June 1, 2014.)
First thing I wanted to see is the drawer construction. The drawer sides are fitted to the inside of the drawer front with a sliding dovetail. The drawer front then overhangs the carcass of the box. There are no drawer pulls set into the drawer front, but two “glyphs” glued onto the end grain of the drawer front that act as pulls. Why these are still intact is beyond me.
The drawer bottom is made up of two riven oak boards running side-to-side.
Here is the detail that shows the sliding dovetail, the overhang and the glyph on the end grain.
As you see in the overall photo, the box sits on turned feet. These are tenoned into oak slats that run front-to-back and are nailed to the box’s bottom. I made a couple of rough sketches/notes = the piece is on display in the gallery; and time was short. I had a mini-lecture to give & cheese & crackers to eat! I hope to get back there to see the box in detail some time this year.
I had this photo from Rob Tarule & Ted Curtin years ago, but never really looked at the lid’s species – until I saw it in the flesh. Sycamore’s radial flecking is more pronounced than oak’s…it’s really amazing. Click the photo & see for yourself.
The box mixes riven oak with flatsawn oak (on the sides in the view above) and the millsawn sycamore as well. The box sides are glued-up of two boards, with an applied molding covering the seam. There’s an abandoned carving pattern scribed & partially cut on the inside face of the box front. I love that stuff. I can still mess them up myself, so I’m glad to see it’s not just me.
In the meantime, once I get set up & working oak again, the first box I make is going to have a drawer and turned tootsies.
The William Searle/Thomas Dennis story is terribly long. Here’s a partial bibliography that discusses their works:
Jonathan L. Fairbanks and Robert F. Trent, eds., New EnglandBegins: The Seventeenth-Century 3 vols. (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1982)
Brock Jobe and Myrna Kaye, New England Furniture: the Colonial Era (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1984)
Irving P. Lyon, series of six articles, “The Oak Furniture of Ipswich, Massachusetts” that originally appeared in Antiques in 1937-38. These are all collected in Robert F. Trent, ed., Pilgrim Century Furniture: An Historical Survey (New York: Main Street/Universe Books, 1976) pp. 55-78.
Robert Tarule, The Artisan of Ipswich: Craftsmanship and Community in Colonial New England (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004)
Discovering Dennis: The Search for Thomas Dennis among the Artisans of Exeter, Paul Fitzsimmons, Robert Tarule, and Donald P. White III; review by Peter Follansbee in American Furniture, ed. Luke Beckerdite, (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2010)
It’s in pretty beat-up shape, lost its feet, top is trimmed and patched here & there, etc. But so what? The carving is all there. What fun. This is listed as attributed to the Mason/Messenger shops in Boston, but that’s a mistake. It’s Thomas Dennis from Ipswich, Massachusetts; 1660s-1700. It has never been published before in any of the numerous treatments on Dennis’ work…this one literally came out of the woodwork.
I noticed they have added a few more pictures from when I first saw it two weeks ago. These two show each end of the chest. Clearly one set is oak, with the ray-fleck pattern from the riven quartered stock. The first pair here seem very plain for riven, quartered oak. Now it’s really difficult to judge a piece by the photos; and these are snapshots rather than the good quality shots above..but if I had a chance to see this chest, I’d look at these end panels to try to understand why they are different from one set to the other. It almost looks like the figured set are sycamore/plane tree.
Someone will get a nice chunk of New England joinery history at a discount price. The condition will keep it from getting into the stratosphere. Me, I’ll have to carve my own – after the wainscot chair I have underway now.
Sometimes I buy two copies of a book on purpose, other times it’s because I can’t find it, buy the replacement and then later find the first. So a while back I sent George Walker http://georgewalkerdesign.wordpress.com/ a copy of the 1981 journal “Furniture History” because it has an article by Anthony Wells-Cole about the “strapwork” design found on oak furniture in Devon, England and Ipswich, Massachusetts from the seventeenth century. Wells-Cole ran down the existing work in oak, then looked at possible sources for it, including stone monuments and print sources. The article is titled “An Oak Bed at Montacute: A Study in Mannerist Decoration.”
I’ve been prepping lately for my now-postponed carving class, so had the chance to review a lot of photos of various carving patterns. The strapwork one in the Wells-Cole study in particular always fascinates me. I have carved it umpteen times. Never the same twice.
Based on markings still visible on the old ones, one method for layout seems to be horizontal and vertical centerlines, then spacing things outward from there in four directions according to the size of the timber, and the size & shape of the tools.
this next box has an abandoned layout partially struck on its inner face of the front board. I always get excited by this sort of evidence, march off & adopt it at my bench, then I pull up and think, “wait a minute, this is a mistake – that’s why it’s not done!”
I usually work outwards from the center, and most often start with a circle there, then the bands/straps working east/west/north/south.
This time, I marked the pattern left and right, but only on the top half of the board. Then it’s easy enough to copy from there to the bottom half. Then remove the background.
Depending on a number of factors, one of which might be whim, you can make the curved straps that run along the top and bottom margins either broad and shallow, or taller and tighter. Once you learn the vocabulary, you can combine these parts in a streaming run of designs, never to be repeated…
Here’s broad & shallow:
versus taller and tighter:
Those are both the same maker, Thomas Dennis again. Here’s more variations: