Inlay Design On Blanket Chests
Master wood craftsmen, usually known as cabinet makers, during the Early America Era, created blanket chests with very intricate designs. Beautifully crafted inlay design patterns on blanket chests was one of the sophisticated style choices.
The groups of people known as the fancy people would have been the ones that made blanket chests with inlay designs. The plain people rarely added embellishments of any type to hope chests, their homes or their clothing which is why they were referred to as the plain people. The fancy people not only added inlay to their wooden blanket chests, they also liked fully painted designs which had specific meanings for individual families.
Many eighteenth-century Pennsylvania German furniture pieces, especially blanket chests, were decorated with sulfur inlay. This was done by first carving out a shallow decorative design into the wood chests using very sharp wood chisels. From there, molten sulfur was carefully poured into the incisions. This material, which was ivory-colored, was first mentioned in historical art literature in 1958. There has been a lot of confusion about the make-up of this material, its composition, methods of manufacture and the source of their color since then. Some of these inlays were found to be a type of allotrope of sulfur in 1977. Some years later another inlay type was found on eighteenth-century hope chest furniture,also ivory-colored, that did not contain sulfur.
Sulfur when initially poured is bright yellow in color. This lead historians to do some research about the aging phenomena of the inlays. They found that the inlays changed their color to ivory when there was a particle size decrease of the sulfur used in these designs. This was caused by repeated climatic changes on the blanket chests over the course of 200 years, especially in an uncontrolled environment. This would also be why many of the hope chests found in historical collections decorated with sulfur inlay display some cracking and splitting of the sulfur.
Along with the sulfur inlay used in their beautiful designs, ivory, shell, contrasting colored wood and bone were additional materials placed into the wood chiseled incisions. Many of the blanket chests crafted in Pennsylvania by German immigrants were artfully inlaid with leaf and floral designs flowing out from vases. The vases would have been created out of one of the additional materials.Sulfur inlay was also used to create string inlay and inlaid keyhole escutcheon in geometric patterns as an additional design element. This inlay was very fine in detail so that all of the designs created were very sophisticated in appearance.
Blanket chests with inlay designs are fewer than the more popular painted designs consisting mainly of hex designs. This is probably because creating the sulfur inlay style involves carving into the wood chests in a precise manner, which raises the difficulty factor. The change in color of the sulfur inlay to ivory has only added to its elegance of design. Blanket Chest Heirlooms.com has a beautiful example of sulfur inlay on blanket chests along with many other examples of Early American reproduction hope chests.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Charity Crouch is an Art History major.
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