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Title:shadow box
Date Made:1750-1778
Type:Household Accessory
Materials:wood: paper filigree; rolled paper work; maple, pine; glass, cardboard; watercolor on laid paper, gouache, textiles, wallpaper, shells, mica, base metal: wire
Place Made:United States; Massachusetts; Boston
Measurements:overall: 21 3/4 x 19 x 12 1/4 in.; 55.245 x 48.26 x 31.115 cm
Accession Number:  HD 1999.23
Credit Line:Mr. and Mrs. Hugh B. Vanderbilt Fund for Curatorial Acquisitions
Museum Collection:  Historic Deerfield

Quillwork shadow box, a rare survival of quillwork executed by an anonymous young lady at a Boston school. These shadow boxes are primarily decorated with tiny scrolls of rolled paper known as paper filigree or quillwork. An art form which began in Italian convents in the 13th century, paper quillwork was made from 1/8" strips of paper and parchment from discarded book pages. Plain paper and parchment coils were assembled to mimic carved ivory, while the gilt edges of other textblocks were trimmed and scrolled to resemble gold wire filigree. Other designs included spirals, rosettes and flutes, which were tightly wound around a thin quill and then glued by one edge to a background of paper, silk or wood. By the 17th century, secular decorative paper filigree had become fashionable in England. Formal instruction, papers, and patterns were marketed for the education of young women in England and the colonies in the early 18th century. Boston schools in the mid 18th century offered young girls instruction in various ornamental arts, among which the most unusual and challenging was this this type of quillwork. The "Boston Evening-Post" advertised in its February 15, 1748 edition: "This may inform young Gentlewomen...that...Mrs Hiller designs to open a Boarding-School...where they may be taught Wax Work, Transparent and Filligree, Painting upon Glass, Japanning, Quill-Work, Feather-Work, and Embroidering with Gold and Silver..." This shadow box may depict a Boston house, the Hancock Mansion on Beacon Hill built for Thomas Hancock (1703-1764) in 1737 and later owned by his nephew John Hancock (1737-1793), and probably originally contained miniature furnishings. The quillwork is contained in a square box supported on sloping bracket feet fitted with a glass window on the facade and flanking arched windows on each side with thin wires to simulate window sashes. The inner box holds a miniature two-story, five-bay, Georgian house facade with a balustrade and end chimneys on a simulated brick foundation. The pilastered facade of twisted and glued papers, which simulate an ashlar and marble surface, is fitted with tiled steps leading to the front door; the forecourt is covered with seashells. The house contains four room interiors decorated with cloth to simulate wallpaper and probably once was fitted with miniature furnishings. The back of the box was once sealed with wallpaper probably made in the 1760s, perhaps of Boston manufacture according to Richard Nylander of Historic New England; and the February 12, 1778 issue of the Boston newspaper, "The Independent Chronicle. And the Universal Advertiser" over the wallpaper. The shadow box was purchased from Robert Thayer of Sheffield, Massachusetts, who bought it from Paul Scott of Fitzwilliam, N.H; Scott purchased it at a house sale on Route 4 between Concord and Portsmouth, New Hampshire, about 1994. The West Chester Historical Society and the historic house Stenton both own similar shell and grotto shadow boxes. A similar shell work and quill work house facade is located in the Shell Gallery of the English house A La Ronde.

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