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by Jean M. Burks

Fig. 1: The reproduction Hadley chest, carved with the initials “EH” in honor of Electra Havemeyer (Webb), founder of the museum.

This reproduction Hadley chest is the end result of a grant the Shelburne Museum received in 2000 to fund artisans to work before the public. Curator Jean Burks and conservator Nancie Ravenel, along with independent joiner Rob Tarule, selected the museum’s “MW” Hadley chest (left), dating from 1707, as the object to be copied. This chest was chosen because Burks felt it was important to interpret the original painted surface, yet did not want to disturb the chest’s aged façade; the reproduction offered an opportunity to introduce the original color scheme to museum visitors.

For the grant project, Tarule re-created the mortise and tenon frame-and-panel construction of the “MW” chest and copied the stylized baroque carving of the façade using a stencil and a V-groove parting tool. Ravenel examined the original chest for traces of color, but found inconclusive evidence to accurately determine the paint scheme. In order to interpret how the “MW” chest may have been painted, Burks identified two other Hadley chests from the same shop that retained their original surfaces. Leigh Keno, a past owner of one of the chests, had commissioned then-SPNEA conservator Susan Buck to conduct a detailed microscopic analysis of the original surface colors. Her research revealed an elaborate paint scheme that includes deep red, brilliant Prussian blue, black, and white. This is the palette that Burks, Ravenel, and Tarule decided to interpret on the reproduction. The overall effect is quite startling compared to the darkened or stripped surfaces that most people expect to see on furniture from this early time period.

Fig. 2: The original “MW” Hadley chest made for Martha Williams of Hatfield, Massachusetts, in 1707.

The two chests will be on view in the museum’s 2002 woodworking exhibition. Click here for an article further discussing the methodology behind the interpretation and reproduction of the “MW” chest, “Mystery Revealed: Unraveling the Story of a Hadley Chest,” by Burks and Tarule, which was originally published in the Winter 2001 issue of The Catalogue of Antiques & Fine Art.

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