A chest-on-chest in the Americana sale at Christie’s last week, seen here, has a single shell-carved drawer in the top tier that is a bit of a twist on the common practice of having the grasses on the sides of the shell carved separately and applied to the face of the drawer.
On this drawer, both the shell and the grasses are carved into the drawer front, the grasses first outlined with a v-tool and gouges, then modeled and detailed in low-relief. The technique used in carving the grasses, carving and modeling a design into the ground, is often referred to as “incised”. Having all the carving on a drawer carved into it is rare in Philadelphia work but does occur. A much more common why of working was to combine incised and low-relief carving having the ground is lowered. Many carved objects show this technique to great effect and it took carving and design skill to successfully integrate both modes of carving in producing a coherent and clear result.
While I believe the chest-on-chest may have been made outside the city of Philadelphia as the auction catalogue alludes to, the shell-drawer has a wonderfully subtle passage of low-relief carving below the shell that that with great effect integrates the deep relief of the shell and the incised carving.
A whisper of a cut, 1/32” or less, from the edge of the drawer at the quarter-round at the bottom edge, produces the tip of the lower element. As the carving moves towards the shell, the ground is further lowered to about the depth of the deepest cuts of the incised carving. Although very little wood is removed, there is considerable movement and even overlapping leaves are suggested. A brilliant design resolution and absolute control of carving gouges.