Elmslie Sideboard

Friday 22 May 2015

Jessie Mitchell Elmslie was just 22 years old when she carved this sideboard. Jessie’s father John was the minister at St Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Cashel Street and one of his parishioners taught her how to carve. Carving was an unusual activity for women then, especially on such a large scale.

2016.61.3 Elmslie Sideboard On Display

Elmslie Sideboard on display 2016.61.3

Jessie married James Colin Campbell in October 1891 and moved to Whanganui. Photographic evidence shows that the sideboard was in Jessie’s house in 1906 and it appears that she continued to practice copper tooling, as she designed and made a copper memorial panel for her father when he died in 1907. The memorial panel is still in the care of St Paul’s and will be reinstated when their church reopens.

The sideboard is an excellent example of Arts and Crafts furniture. The Arts and Crafts movement was popular in the late nineteenth century and encouraged traditional crafts in a time when mass production was just beginning.

What creatures can you see in the carvings? If you look closely you will find a wyvern: a legendary creature that is part serpent, part dragon. This is a sea-wyvern, with dragon wings and numerous tails instead of feet. You might also spot a heraldic dolphin, which looks more like a fish and even has scales. In legend, dolphins represent swiftness and charity while wyverns symbolise strength and valour.

Purchased with support from the Friends of Canterbury Museum.


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