PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF THOMAS P AND ALICE K KUGELMAN
A handwritten label attached to a drawer bottom of the upper case recounts: “This highboy belonged to Rev. John Willard’s grandmother.” This probably refers to Rhoda Welles (1756-1827), a sixth generation descendant of the colonial governor Thomas Welles (1596-1660), who married Daniel Willard (1753-1817) of Wethersfield on April 24, 1783. He was a prosperous farmer in Newington parish and deacon of the church. This high chest was probably ordered soon after their marriage to stand in their house on Willard Avenue in Newington, which was built by Daniel’s great uncle, Josiah Welles (1691-1751), in 1732. It is likely the “case of drawers” valued at $3 in the inventory taken after Daniel’s death in 1817. It remained the property of his descendants for four generations until it was sold out of the family in 1988.
This eponymous high chest is illustrated by Thomas P. Kugelman, and Alice K. Kugelman with Robert Lionetti in Connecticut Valley Furniture: Eliphalet Chapin and His Contemporaries, 1750-1800, published by the Connecticut Historical Society Museum in Hartford in 2005. They include it in the “Willard Group,” which is so named for this high chest, and describe the furniture in this group as the “ultimate expression of mature Wethersfield production” with “sweeping curves and arches as well as unparalleled grace and proportion” that “set this group apart” from other Wethersfield groups. Ten bonnet-top high chests, two flat-top high chests, one high chest base, and three dressing tables constitute the group, which was made by an unidentified shop operating in Wethersfield during the 1780s. This critical mass of virtually identical high chests indicates this shop was large with several well-trained apprentices and/or journeymen.
Kugelman et al identify the following significant index features for the case pieces from this shop: pieces constructed of cherry with birch, eastern white pine and tulip poplar secondary woods; exceptionally well-proportioned cases with steep broken-arch bonnets; cornice moldings that wrap into the bonnet cavity about 6”; closed backs of the bonnet cavity with a slightly arched backboard that conforms to the curve of the bonnet arch, with no roof over the cavity; a center plinth that rises between the two cutout circles almost to the top of the bonnet opening that is shaped at its midsection and carved with a pinwheel, sunburst, or fylfot; no side plinths; simple pinecone-shaped finials, turned in one piece with a spool-shaped base, and mounted at the front corners and on the central plinth; upper and lower case drawers embellished with simple carved shells having approximately twenty convex rays or with a four-lobed fylfot; brasses on the upper case long drawers that are aligned vertically with the small drawers, or may be inset, the carved drawers with small mushroom pulls; dressing tables with a rail above the top drawer; front and side aprons with cyma curves, the sides with a raised center arch, the front with pendant half circles at the center that extend below the horizontal plane of the apron; ogee shaped knee returns that are applied to the underside of the apron and canted on the inside; and long slender cabriole legs ending in pad feet with well defined truncated cones supporting the pads that are chamfered around the bottom edge.
Four bonnet-top high chests and two flat-top high chests from the larger Willard group relate most closely to this high chest (see Kugelman, Kugelman, and Lionetti, note 3, p. 75). A bonnet-top example at Colonial Williamsburg is nearly identical to this high chest with the exception of the placement of its escutcheons and brasses. Another bonnet-top high chest at the Alexander King House in Suffield has “TB” painted in white on the upper case backboard as well as the incised initials “BDM” (see ibid, cat. 27e, p. 75). Several of its features – a central plinth that is 1” taller and ½” wider, rounded rather than ogee-shaped knee returns, and pad feet with a wider supporting pad – suggest it was made by a Wethersfield-trained craftsman working outside the main Willard group shop. Candidates for this maker with the initials “TB” include Timothy Boardman (1727-1792) of Middletown and Thomas Bulkley (1758-1797) of Farmington. A related flat top chest with five long drawers and no shell in the upper case was probably first owned by Mary Welles (1753-1825) and Epaphras Stoddard (1748-1792) of Wethersfield, who married on November 25, 1773.
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