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Chest, 1672

Maker: Attributed to the Workshop of Thomas Dennis, English, (active Exeter, England and Ipswich, Massachusetts) 1638 - 1706

Medium: Oak with original polychromy; iron hinges and fittings

33 1/2 × 47 3/4 × 23 1/4 in. (85.1 × 121.3 × 59.1 cm)

Credit Line: Gift of the Decorative Arts Trust

Object Number: 2010.25

Not on view

Devon, England (unknown auction); Suffolk, England (unknown dealer); Marhamchurch Antiques, Cornwall, England, 2010
Most seventeenth-century English homes contained at least one chest for storing linens, personal belongings, and household goods.  This example has the simple, rectilinear form and framed panel construction typical of furniture of the period.  The three central panels, as well as the front rails and stiles, are boldly carved with stylized flowers and leaves. These elements are enriched with red and black paint characteristic of much furniture made in the Exeter area.  The carved initials TB and date 1672 suggest that this chest was made to celebrate a special occasion such as an engagement or marriage.

The chest is of particular interest because of its similarity to furniture made by William Searle (d. 1667) and Thomas Dennis (1638–1706).  Trained in a workshop near Exeter in southwest England, these craftsmen immigrated to Ipswich, Massachusetts in the 1660s. The chest’s decoration and construction are very close to the works Searle and Dennis produced in the New World.  It thus illustrates the direct relationship between English traditions and early American colonial furniture.