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Sign for the Chafee House
1865-1890
Paint on pine board, gold leaf, iron hardware
Primary Dimensions (height x width including hardware): 42 5/16 x 36in. (107.5 x 91.4cm) Other (height x width of sign only): 27 1/4 x 36in. (69.2 x 91.4cm)
Credit Line: Collection of Morgan B. Brainard, Gift of Mrs. Morgan B. Brainard
Gallery Copy: According to family history, this sign first hung at George A. Chafee’s café and then at the Chafee Hotel, which opened to great fanfare in 1889. The acanthus leaf decoration in the center resembles carving and ornamentation on ship’s bows, suggesting the sign might have been produced in one of Middletown’s ship building or carving shops. The phrase included here was a personal favorite of Chafee’s, and similar messages appear on other American and English tavern-related artifacts.
Description: Images: On both sides, relief-carved acanthus scroll. Text: On both sides, above acanthus, "GEO.A.CHAFEE.", below acanthus, "'As we journey through / life, let us live by / the way'". Construction: At least four boards, grain oriented horizontally, are joined with tongue and groove joints and then cut into a decorative shape. Bullnose moldings are applied with nails to the outer edges.
Technique Note: Letters and central acanthus scroll are relief carved. A random repeating punched star pattern is seen throughout the gilded background. Microscopic examination indicates that there are two layers of gilding present and at least two layers of black paint on the letters, possibly three. The black surfaces of these letters were originally highlighted in gold designs, and possibly outlined in red. Coffee-colored paint on the outer moldings is a more recent application. Historical Note: Original location. According to Chafee's son, Charles A. Chafee, this sign hung first at Chafee's café on College Street and later "above the front steps of the Court street hotel." The Chafee Hotel was located in "the old Dr. Baker place on Court street," which Chafee remodeled and enlarged into a hotel building in 1889. Letterhead from Chafee's Hotel in the twentieth century shows what appears to be an early nineteenth century (possibly earlier) five-bay, Georgian house, expanded substantially to the rear and updated with a porch running the full width of the façade and a fountain on the side. The only sign visible is a narrow, horizontal name band reading "CHAFEE", mounted on the gable wall (similar to cat. 57).
Object Number: 1961.63.14
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