In Focus

Chest of drawers [1985.B.1], 18th century, Chester County, Pennsylvania

The following essay is from the 1989 publication American Furniture in the Bybee Collection_, by Charles L. Venable._

Furniture ornamented with distinctive inlaid patterns of lines and berries has long been associated with Chester County, Pennsylvania. Recent scholarship has confirmed the localized nature of this tradition in southeastern Pennsylvania. However, some examples were probably also made outside of Chester County in Philadelphia. The presence of oak as a secondary wood argues strongly in favor of a rural origin for the chest illustrated here.

Although southeastern Pennsylvania is known more for its strong German traditions, numerous immigrants from Wales also settled in the area. It was Welsh craftsmen who first produced this type of decorated case furniture in Chester County.

The ornamental pattern on the drawer fronts was first laid out with a compass. Next the design was channeled out and finally filled with strips of light-color wood, usually holly and red cedar. Specific types of inlaid designs were reserved for particular furniture forms. For example, the elongated tulip-and-berry motif present here (as well as its variants) was restricted to chests of drawers. The pinwheel design inscribed on the backboard of this chest is found in its inlaid form on the doors of spice boxes.

In contrast to the delicate decoration on the facade, this chest is massively constructed. The piece is basically conceived of as a joined chest with flat-paneled sides and mortise-and-tenon construction throughout. The massive framing supports an early date for this chest. The line-and-berry tradition reached a peak of popularity in the 1740s.

Excerpt from

Charles L. Venable, American Furniture in the Bybee Collection, (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, published in association with the Dallas Museum of Art, 1989), 3.