As part of a Peer-to-Peer Collectors’ forum and a Willis Henry Shaker Auction that took place at HSV, the museum has purchased a distinctive ca. 1840 Shaker blanket chest with lift lid and unique grain-painting for its permanent collection. The chest joins some 22,000 objects in the museum’s holdings which document Shaker values, lifestyle, innovations, crafts, trades, and tools. The bulk of the existing collection came from the 1960 transaction in which the Hancock Shakers sold their village to the museum.
The blanket chest acquisition is made possible with generous funding by three anonymous lead donors with help from others (Bernard Margolis, Amanda Beatty, and Kathleen Moriarty). These donors know the value of building the museum’s holdings, furthering its research and exhibition programs, and bringing original and unique pieces back to the Village.
This pine and butternut wood chest is attributed to the outstanding craftsman Grove Wright (American, 1789-1861). Measuring 43 ½ inches high by 37 inches wide, it has its original ochre yellow faux-grain finish and fruitwood drawer pulls. Its feet are cut, canted and slightly arched.
The chest may have left the West Pittsfield or Hancock Shaker community in the 1940s, well before the founding of the museum. The famous Shaker collector Dr. J.J. Gerald McCue purchased the piece in 1949 from A. Hamilton of Sheffield, MA. McCue’s collection was sold on Saturday, September 8th, 2012, via Willis Henry Auctions. The proceedings of that auction took place under a tent at Hancock Shaker Village with over 150 collectors and scholars in the audience, some bidding fiercely for premier Shaker pieces including furniture and oval boxes.
The museum’s Collections Committee, led by Michael Zak, a member of the Board of Trustees, deemed the chest the most desirable piece for the permanent collection from the 105 auction lots on offer. The chest will be on view at Hancock Shaker Village as part of special exhibitions and in historic building displays. Find the piece referenced in The Complete Book of Shaker Furniture by Rieman and Burks (page 177).