About Me

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Recent retiree--35 year's experience teaching reading, English, adult basic education and volunteer leadership skills. Started this blog to exchange ideas and commentary with friends and others having an interest in joining the discussions. Greatest life accomplishments include: 1.organized my 3rd grade class to check out library books for me to get around librarian's weekly limit--Amazon.com, the Mullins Elementary 3rd Grade Class of 1956 is still waiting for "thank you" notes; 2. volunteered in the Peace Corps, island of St. Kitts, West Indies; 3.taught adults to read, earn their GEDs., and speak English as a second language; 4. bought a border collie puppy for $6, got evicted rather than give him up, and began a life-long love affair with all things "Dog"; 5. joined a physical fitness boot camp in my mid-50s--don't mess with someone who's been doing regulation pushups in wet grass at 5:30 a.m.; 6. walked across Northern England with best friend Sally--over 80 miles from the Irish to North Seas; and 7. travelled to many foreign countries for pleasure and work.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


Some things that you get to do are just plain fun. Plus, if you learn something you didn't know already, that just adds an extra oomph to the experience. Yesterday was that kind of day when I met up with a couple of friends to check out an exhibit of Kentucky antique sugar chests at the Speed Art Museum. What made the outing extra sweet(get it?) was that we could have so much fun in the middle of a work week. All three of us are retired--or will be soon. One of the great perks of retirement is to be able to do things on your own schedule. That means no lines, crowds, time limits. And let's not forget the unexpected luxury of seeing a movie in an almost empty theater.

For those readers who are not knowledgeable antique buffs or owners--including me--here's the deal on sugar furniture. In the early to mid nineteenth century, sugar was a precious commodity in the home. In Kentucky, loaves and cones of sugar were shipped inland from New Orleans and the West Indies and kept under lock and key in the more affluent homes. In the sound tradition of form following function, furniture makers in central and western Kentucky crafted a variety of sugar chests, desks, and boxes which were kept in the public rooms of the house such as parlor or dining room for all to see. This furniture was a symbol of the family's social status. These beautiful but simple pieces kept expensive sugar convenient for sweetening drinks and also held the liquor served to frequent guests in the homes.

The Speed Museum had around 40 different examples of sugar furniture on display. The earliest pieces were simple divided boxes, mostly on legs that became more intricately carved as the century progressed. Most pieces had two separate bins for the refined white or cane sugar and the more common maple or brown sugar. Some had drawers for valuables and cubbyholes for liquor bottles. All had locks to keep out samplers. Most pieces were singularly lacking in ornamentation, depending on beautiful wood graining, simple inlays, and dovetailing to make each piece unique.

Today I'm thinking about a couple of the chests we saw. I now have more appreciation for these antiques. It's almost like if you look closely enough at the worn places, scratches in the wood, or decorative elements of a piece you can create a story about the families who owned and used them to entertain friends and family. It would make me much happier to have an antique sugar chest in my home than the most expensive new piece. With the antique I'd get another family's history to which I could add my own memories.


Babaloo said...

Hi Faye,
Thanks for stopping by my blog. Laurie's blog has become a great meeting place for people. Will definitely drop by your blog, now that I'm semi-retired (on a trial basis, just taking a year out) and have time to read lots of good things. :-)

laurie said...

wow, sugar chests. who knew? i'd never heard of that but they sure are beautiful. in the north we would call those desks.

Faye said...

Laurie--you're right. The last photo is of a 1820 sugar desk. The sugar and booze would have been kept below and then the hinged writing surface could be lowered when needed, revealing several small drawers to keep other valuables. I imagine the lady of the house could get quite a power buzz by having the key to this desk on the key ring worn around her waist!

KittyHawk said...

I enjoyed your piece on our day learning about sugar chests, Faye. It was fun, and definitely left me with a greater appreciation for my old sugar chest. Turned legs, plain - not paneled sides, one drawer that reaches from leg-to-leg, and original finish, including one blemish that I caused when I let an iris blossom drop on the top and didn't get it off quickly enough. The discoloration is small, but still is a shame.