Sunday, August 14, 2011

1791 Blanket Chest from Frederick County, Maryland

Poplar, yellow pine, paint
HOA: 25 3/4", WOA: 40 1/2", DOA: 22 3/8"

This blanket chest - with its sgraffito decoration - bears witness to the role of Germanic immigrants in settling the Southern backcountry. The identity of the craftsmen responsible for this chest is unknown, though the initials "IT" on the chest may be those of the maker. Adam Neff (d. 1818), the owner of this blanket chest, was a member of Evangelical Lutheran Church in Frederick County, Maryland, and likely of Germanic extraction.

Neff's name is scribed on to the chest - along with the date 1791 - using a technique called sgraffito in which the artisan scratches through an overcoat of paint to expose an undercoat in a decorative manner. The vine, flower, and basket motif seen on this chest is similar to the motifs found on Fraktur, a Germanic calligraphy tradition often used to memorialize import life events.

The life event that prompted Neff to commission a blanket chest with the date 1791 remains unknown - he did not marry until 1797. Perhaps he just needed a blanket chest. When he died in 1818 his estate included three blanket chests valued at $1, $2 and $4.

Copy and photo from MESDA.

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