The Welsh Dresser: A Case Study

Moira Vincentelli

  Tradition and Innovation in Display





The modern dresser which had been created by recycling an old cupboard and adding shelves. The display has traditional elements but is augmented by arrangements of moss and plant material and other recently purchased decorations.

However also in this room was another dresser which was of great significance. The dresser in the living room was preserved as a family shrine but the one in the parlour was her dresser. She talked about this one being 'for me'. (Image 7 stendress 2) At sixty-five she had reviewed her life much of which had been spent looking after other people. At that point her father, who had always lived with her, had recently died and her children had grown up. She felt very strongly that this was her domain and she had lavished her decorative and creative skills and attention on it and on this room. While we were in this room both mother and daughter reminisced about the female line going back to a great grandmother 'Mami Coed Du Haul' who had been a midwife and herbalist and had passed on the knowledge of plants and potions to her daughter, the grandmother of my interviewee. This knowledge was not really preserved into the last two generations except perhaps in a renewed form of collecting mosses and plants to make decorations.

The dresser itself was a hybrid, basically recently constructed shelves on top of an older sideboard. The quality of the furniture was of no particular importance, it was the display that counted. In some ways this dresser, although created quite recently, drew on older traditions of display including blue and white china and lustre jugs. It also incorporated other aspects of creative expression in the form of arrangements of natural objects, and decorations made from wood, cones and moss.


Detail from the modern dresser showing floral arrangements.


So this allows me to argue that the dresser and the display on the dresser is a site for female creative activity. Sometimes the dresser is preserved as a historic heirloom in a time capsule, as it were, but in other cases considerable modifications can be made. In this case study E. had one of each. Many dressers are very beautiful examples of furniture but their visual effect is ultimately in the display. Welsh dresser display is created by women and there is a vocabulary of styles and arrangements which are followed but within this there is scope for individual initiative. The dresser display as a dynamic piece of house decoration, offers an opportunity to display excess wealth i.e. non-functional goods. It is a place around which family memories and histories can accrue and is also a vehicle for creative expression. The stories people tell about objects invariably have the ring of oft told stories.

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Objects and Stories

Tradition and Innovation in Display



Appendix 1


The Welsh Dresser: A Case Study • Issue 1