Wood Stories: Chest
WOODEN CHESTS HAD BEEN ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT PEICES OF FURNITURE UNTIL THE 20TH CENTURY IN ALL HOMESTEADS IN SLOVENIA. THEY WERE USED BY PEASANTS AS WELL AS THE BURGOIS.THEY KEPT IN THEM CLOTHES, TOOLS, GRAIN AND OTHER FIELD PRODUCE. PEOPLE SAT ON THEM OR EVEN USED THEM FOR SLEEPING INSTEAD OF A BED. SOME OF THEM HAD CHAMBER WALLS INSIDE AND DRAWERS, SOMETIMES EVEN A HIDDEN DRAWER FOR KEEPING PRECIOUS OBJECTS.
Wooden chests had been one of the most important pieces of furniture until the 20th century in all homesteads in Slovenia. They were used by peasants as well as the burgois. They kept in them clothes, tools, grain and other field produce. People used them for sleeping instead of a bed.
In smaller chests people kept small or precious objects like a sewing kit, documents, letters or jewellry. They were made of wood, only the keyhole and the hinges were made of metal. According to the usage and the wealth of the owner the chests were made of soft fir wood and without any sophisticated surface treatment. Or they were made of harder wood like cherry, walnut, oak and with a more sophisticated surface treatment. They were made in different dimensions. Some of them had inside chamber walls and drawers, sometimes even a hidden drawer for keeping precious objects. Usually the local peasant producers made them and decorated them in accordance with the culture of living and the tradition of the surrounding places.
According to the usage we differ two types of chests. The wedding chests, in which the brides took their usual goods to their new home and were usually painted, scratched or decorated with an intarsia. The picture material of bridal chests have not been preserved in the region of Kočevje. But the chests were an important part of a bride goods and reflected their social status. As Walter Tschinkel wrote: it was an honour for a bride if she could bring a chest full of clothes, a spinning wheel, a jul, a bucket for water, and a hoe.Such a bride was considered a rich bride.
The chests for keeping the field produce differed in the outside form from the wedding ones as they were not ornamented on the surface. Usually they stood in a granary, if the house was smaller they stood in the corridor or in the attic.The oldest chetsts were roughly carved and had a lid in the form of a bumpy roof, the younger had a flat cover.
In the wider region of Kočevsko very simple chests have been preserved, not ornamented chests (in the Gotscheer language «Schrain«). But dr. Adolf Haufen, who researched these places at the end of the 19th century, reported tht the chests for garments in the peasants houses of those times stood in the attic and were ornamneted with simple painting and carved patterns.
The chests for the fabric were slowly replaced by cabinets, canides, drawer chests and other pieces all around Europe with more or less the same furntiture. The grain chests were kept for a longer time.Today chests are used as an ornament that symbolizes the conncetion with the past and tradiiton.
Dr. Anja Moric
Putscherle institute, a center for research, culture and culture heritage conservation