Painted Wooden Chest

Object Details

E. (or J.) Watts
Late 19th century
Wood, cast iron, oil paint, varnish
37 1/2" x 19 1/4" x 15 1/8"
The artist’s signature, E. Wats, appears on the front panel of this wooden chest dating to the late nineteenth century. Vividly painted with allegorical scenes, though perhaps drawing on the experience of the artist who is thought to be African American, the narrative begins on the chest’s left side, as African Americans harvest crops in the background, while well-dressed whites pass by on horse and in a horse-drawn carriage, respectively. The road continues on the front panel where African Americans cultivate cotton, as a white horse pulls a white man and woman in a carriage. On a second road, however, Black figures are walking, including a family passing under a stone bridge. The roads diverge dramatically on the chest’s right side where Black souls sprout wings, but white enslavers’ souls perch precariously over hell’s flames. On the hinged back of the chest, African American angels ascend to heaven where pleasurable pursuits, such as boating and swinging, abound, as do ripe fruits and roasts of meat that can be plucked from a tree. Inside the four-legged chest is a warren of wooden compartments, including nesting boxes that slide back and forth to access items stored beneath. Iron handles on the left and right sides allow for transport. A hole on the chest’s front once held a lock.
Accession Number
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Anacostia Community Museum Collection
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Anacostia Community Museum
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