Bentwood Boxes

Bentwood Boxes

Bentwood Boxes
Sometimes called a bent-corner box the elegant bentwood box is a Tlingit storage container fit for royalty.  It was made from a single plank steamed until soft enough to bend 90-degree angles.  (The bending was enabled by the removal of triangular cuts or bending groove [“kerf”] inside each corner).  Because of the bending, three of the box’s corners were smooth while the fourth corner was joined with pegs or spruce root lashing.  The hollow cube was then fitted with a custom bottom and a close-fitting lid, making it water tight, oil tight, and vermin proof.  These boxes were generally painted and sometimes carved as well.  Occasionally the lids were inlaid with glistening opercula, the shells of a marine snail.  Boxes from the early nineteenth century are distinguished by beveled lids, round and protruding.
Bentwood boxes were fashioned from straight-grained red cedar, yellow cedar, spruce or yew.  The wood was split with wedges, then adzed into a regular plank shape.  These magnificent containers are usually square-shaped but somewhat taller than they are wide.  They may be as large as steamer trunks or as small as laser printers.  Bentwood chests served as storage for dried foods, ceremonial clothing, shaman’s equipment and other valuables.  They were also strong enough to serve as shelves and hassocks.  On the death of its owner, a superb and commodious specimen might serve as his mortuary box, and be set into a niche on his mortuary totem.

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