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Seamen in the sailing ship era took chests , if they were so organised, to sea with them. They would become very personal things with the underside of their lids especially, decorated with paintings of ships, flags, their names or images of woman and places been. These have become highly collectable, a  reproduction  on board the Cutty Sark is illustrated here.  The sailor Thomas Budd really was a Cutty Sark crew member, he was a 38 year old  Able Seaman (AB) who sailed her in 1886.

From these the idea of the China Tea Chest came, I had also noticed the trend of Tea clippers with 'Witchey' names, many were outstanding performers in an era where speed mattered. They have  a British and American side to them.

 

Seamans chest on Cutty Sark
A  sea  chest  onboard the Cutty Sark.

 

The Cutty Sark Chest.

This was the first one to be made and very much the hardest, I was on a learning path as I made it. The wood for it is from proper Tea Chests donated by the Cutty Sark Trust, of which I've been a friends member some years. These are Chinese Cedar wood chests and seem to be the source of a lovely aroma when you come aboard the ship. However, they are not very precisely cut and were the Devils own work to make  perfect, also, as I would be bonding sheets together to make a sturdy item, the job would take several original chests to produce one of these. Thereafter professionally cut wood was used. The  'Marine Pentacle' was first applied here, that has it's own pages!  The Chinese writing, I'm assured by a Chinaman, means 'China Green Tea'. I hope so! The flag on the front of the tea chest is the house flag of her company, John Willis & son, the one on the sides the national flag, this layout applies to all the  China tea chests.

 

 

Tea Chest dedicated to the tea clipper Cutty Sark
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The Sea Witch Tea Chest.

This is the first of the American side of my collection, Sea Witch only the second tea clipper built, the first being the Rainbow, also of Howland & Aspinwall.  Her 79 day voyage from Canton is often measured as 74 days from Hong Kong where she would have discharged a pilot, hence I've ended up painting the underside of the lid twice thinking an error had occurred. Commanded by the infamous and probably misunderstood captain Robert Bully Waterman she would usher in a new era of sail.

 

 

This is the first of the American side of my collection, Sea Witch only the second tea clipper built, the first being the Rainbow, also of Howland & Aspinwall.  Her 79 day voyage from Canton is often measured as 74 days from Hong Kong
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The Halloween Tea Chest

A metal hulled stable mate of the Cutty Sark,  the Hallowe'en  was a late comer but probably the fastest tea racer of all. (Note the British way spelling of this ship, Hallowe'en, as of now I'll spell it the better known American way to avoid problems) The Halloween tea chest was the first chest to benefit from the rope painting technique I developed.

Halloween Tea chest

 

The Ariel Tea Chest

The Ariel's race with Taeping in 1866 was probably the most exciting of all, neck and neck all the way, with the Serica home on the same tide!

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The Ariel Tea Clipper decorative tea chest

 

The Original Tea Chest

Before I developed the decorations that appear on the China Tea Chests I made  a prototype from a seemingly hopelessly derelict tea chest I had found while salving wood from a theatre props workshops refuse area. The original tea chest! I dedicated it to the first Merchant Navy Day, September 3rd 2000

click image to continue...

Before I developed the decorations that appear on the China Tea Chests I made  a prototype from a seemingly hopelessly derelict tea chest I had found while salving wood from a theatre props workshops refuse area. The original tea chest!

 

Top of Tea Chest Lid

All the tea chests have this same lid,  with a bit of variation showing development of technique. There are seven pentacles on each chest, one for each of the seven seas and there are thirteen full moons, in the pentacles and in the title banners,  twelve around the sides of the chest represent the twelve found in a regular year, the one on the lid taking care of Blue Moon years.

Blue Moon explained here.

 

All the tea chests have this same lid,  with a bit of variation showing development of technique. There are seven pentacles on each chest, one for each of the seven seas and there are thirteen full moons, in the pentacles and in the title banners,  twelve around the sides of the chest represent the twelve found in a regular year, the one on the lid taking care of Blue Moon years.

 

Tea Chest Number Plate

All the tea chests have this small number plate in them, # 2 here is that of the Ariel chest. They are made from a piece of the Cutty Sark's original keel. Small pieces of the old keel, along with wood shavings from removed pieces of original hull planking and chunks of concrete ballast were sold to the public at some time before the restoration. Too late did I think of putting a piece of the ballast in the false bottoms of the tea chests!

 

 

   

 

Prototype Tea Chest Panel

The first panels I made didn't go onto tea chests, questionable title for  John Willis & Co wasn't noted until the first tea chest , the Cutty Sark, was made but amended when a tea chest for her stable mate the Hallowe'en  was. Also I didn't like the fold of the banners and the ropes unlikely direction or general result, techniques were developed. This and one more were retained and used as door decorations as seen here. I loved the seascape in this one too. They are made from genuine Chinese cedar wood  tea chests donated by the Cutty Sark Trust, left over from an earlier display . I also liked the red mahogany wood stain and that was used on all the tea chests. The trim is tape painted with aluminium metallic paint.

 

 

   

 

Decorative Tea Chests on the Cutty Sark

A large collection of beautiful decorative Tea chests has been created for the Cutty Sark to carry illustrations and information about the ship, company and the tea trade of the era, I'm bound to like them! They appeared some years after my own, for which they kindly donated tea chests. Did I inspire them, I doubt it, but maybe....it's nice thought!

 

 

    Decorative Tea Chests on the Cutty Sark

All text and images and linked images are 2003-2015 George Rix .If you require any further information on permitted use, or a licence to republish any material, email me at copyright@seawitchartist.com

 

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