Quillwork Shadowbox

Maker: Myra Bates (Willcutt) (1798–1885)

Date: ca. 1817

Geography: Made in United States

Culture: American

Medium: Paper, maple, pine, and glass

Dimensions: 14 x 12 x 3 in. (35.6 x 30.5 x 7.6 cm)

Classification: Natural Substances

Credit Line: Purchase, Jan and Warren Adelson, Theodore J. Slavin, Fern Hurst, and Mrs. George Kaufman Gifts, 2006

Accession Number: 2006.45


Myra Bates (Willcutt), who as a young woman made this fascinating cut-paper floral shadow box, lived her entire life in a large house along the common in Cohasset, a town on the Massachusetts coast south of Boston. Her ancestors were among the first settlers of the town in the 1680s. Later generations made their fortune in shipping. Willcutt probably made this shadow box, one of only three others like it known today, at a Boston-area school. It is an unusual nineteenth-century example of the female accomplishment known as "quillwork"—the art of fancy paperwork. The sprightly bouquet of flowers is formed completely of pressed and crimped cream-colored paper that was starched so that each petal has held its curved shape for almost 200 years. The paper was sprinkled with mica flakes so that it glitters in the light. The cut and formed paper pieces were glued into the silk-lined maple box, which is embellished with painted grapevines. A sheet of glass slides into grooves in the edges of the box, which was hung by the two small brass rings at the top in a place of honor in the family's home.