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Three high chests (or "highboys"), including one on loan from the Ott family of Providence, are shown alongside one another. One of the chests is attributed to Benjamin Baker and the makers of two are unknown. The designs and details of each – the subtly-curving cabriole leg, the stylized carved shell, and the ball-and-claw foot – are signatures of early American Newport furniture makers.
The exhibit presents museum visitors with three similar, yet distinctive Newport pieces, and allows a closer look at the overall design and special details of embellishment. Scholars also have the opportunity to compare significant highboys side-by-side in order to see makers’ styles and fine points of construction in relationship to one another.
Ott Family High Chest
Newport High Chest
Benjamin Baker High Chest
Here one sees an overall decorative effect of patterned wood on the front that is striated and fairly straight horizontally. The feet have regularly spaced knuckles and undercut talons, with pronounced tendons that emerge from the leg about halfway down from the top, to emphasize the graceful curve of the leg. A shell device of ten lobes is outlined with a carefully incised line; the center of the shell is a plain background. A finial of urn-and-flame design sits in the aperture of the closed pediment.
Although this high chest (seen on the far left) is made of costly figured mahogany – rather than maple or cedar – note that there are no decorative panels on the pediment. There is no carving on the legs or feet, the latter being a simple pad design that could be made in part on the woodworker’s lathe. The shell carved in the skirt is made up of twelve lobes, and includes a thin groove carved around the edge.
The most decorative of the three high chests here, this piece has the extra embellishments of an open pediment at the top, a fluted block to support the urn-and-flame finial, carving on the knees of the front legs, and very detailed feet, with the talons and the top of the foot undercut. A central thirteen-lobe shell form on the skirt includes a fleur-de-lis design in its center, and is outlined by a thin groove.