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For Safekeeping: The Kentucky Sugar Chest, 1790-1850
American, Kentucky, probably Bourbon County, Sugar Desk, about 1810, Cherry, poplar, other woods. 34 3/8 x 31 3/8 x 15 5/8 in. (87.3 x 79.7 x 39.7 cm.) (desk closed). Gift of Mrs. Hattie Bishop Speed, by exchange 1994.1
LOUISVILLE, KY.- The Speed Art Museum is pleased to host For Safekeeping: The Kentucky Sugar Chest, 1790-1850, on view at the Speed from October 9 through December 2, 2007. The first exhibition ever devoted to Kentucky sugar chests, this exhibition presents more than 40 outstanding examples of chests, desks and similar forms. One of America's most distinctive groups of furniture forms, sugar furniture (sugar chests, desks, boxes and related types), arose during the late eighteenth century on America's post-pioneer western frontier.

In all of its various forms, this furniture was devoted to protecting sugar, a costly commodity in the region at the time. These beautiful pieces would be placed in the dining room or parlor of a home for all to see. The iconic sugar chest kept the expensive sugar close at hand for sweetening the tea, coffee, mixed drinks, and alcoholic punches that lubricated the social rituals of the day.

Whether sugar chests or butter knives, specialized objects used for social activities like drinking and dining became more common during the 1800s. For middle- and upper-class consumers, owning these specialized goods indicated one's knowledge of the latest rules of fashion, refinement, and proper etiquette.

Nowhere were sugar chests and related forms more universally embraced than in antebellum Kentucky. Even though sugar furniture faded from use in the 1840s, the forms remain enormously popular today among collectors, scholars of American and Southern furniture, historians of early American life, and the general public.

This exhibition was curated through the voluntary efforts of Clifton Anderson and Eastern Kentucky University professor Marianne Ramsey. Exhibition support in Louisville has been provided by JP Morgan Chase.



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