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: Early Pine Box in Josephine Koon Room


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The earliest of the series of American period rooms now on view at the Institute is the Josephine Koon room presented by Mrs. Charles C. Bovey in memory of her mother.It is a small room, panelled on one side only, from an old house near New Haven, Connecticut, a modest house which had originally only two rooms on the ground floor. The ample chimney and the small hall with its narrow staircase fitted snugly between them. Occasionally such houses are still to be seen in the vicinity of New Haven but few in their original form.How little space there was in such a house for storage can easily be imagined. There were, of course, no built-in closets such as we now have, and all objects not actually in use were kept in the large pine and oak chests of the type which may be seen on the east wall of the Koon room. Such chests naturally played an important role in the household furnishings of the first half of the eighteenth century and were used as trunks as well as places of storage.From time to time Mrs. Bovey has added objects to supplement those already in the room. The latest of these is the pine box illustrated on this page. It served the same general purposes as the large chests referred to but was used for objects that were smaller and of more importance in the household.For a long time boxes of this type were known as Bible boxes. Undoubtedly many of them were used for keeping the family Bible, in fact some of them seem to have been made especially to fit the bulky Bibles that must have been most treasured possessions of the colonists. The size and shape of this box, however, indicate that it was used for general purposes, for keeping valuable papers, writing materials or other objects that were to be locked up. It took the place of the top bureau drawer of modern times.In construction it is extremely simple. Pine boards have been nailed together without any special fitting at the corners, the edges of the top and bottom projecting beyond the body of the box. The front is decorated almost crudely with geometric designs executed in scratch carving, a simple technique of incised lines made with a sharp-pointed tool. Below the keyhole are the initials "F. R." flanking a fan-shaped device and on either side circular wheel medallions of the type sometimes called Friesland decoration because of its similarity to that found on Dutch boxes brought by the early settlers to this country. The front corners have been carved to suggest dovetail fitting which does not correspond with the actual method of construction. The box is entirely of pine and dates from the first quarter of the 18th century. Although it was originally unpainted, it was subsequently covered with many coats of paint which concealed entirely its carving. Now with the paint removed one sees its original decoration and realizes how well it fits into the Connecticut room and supplements the furniture and other objects which are there now.Referenced Work of Art
  1. Pine box from Josephine Koon room. Gift of Mrs. C. C. Bovey
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Source: "Early Pine Box in Josephine Koon Room," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 19, no. 14 (March, 1930): 70-71.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009