Wood House Purse
Gift of Barbara Chesley, Lake Park, MD, 2016
In 1968, Houses By Hitchcock, located in Houston, Texas made a wood purse for Mrs. Nelle Chesley of Syracuse, NY. Houses By Hitchcock made custom designed and hand-painted wood purses that resembled a woman’s own house. Some examples of wood house purses created by the owner, Mercedes Hitchcock, included the Southern Colonial, the Victorian, and the Romantic models. Women from around the U.S. could send photographs of their houses to Ms. Hitchcock who then created a keepsake wood purse for her female customer. Men also commissioned the house purses as surprise birthday or Christmas gifts for their wives; children do the same for their parents.
Each purse was artistically designed, fabricated, and decorated by Ms. Hitchcock, and depending upon the number of hours it took to create each purse, could cost the customer more than $100, almost $750 today. Customers sent colored photos of the house from each side, then Ms. Hitchcock made scale drawings of each purse. The commissioned keepsake purses included features germane to the individual’s house: roof, chimneys, driveways, trees & shrubs, as well as the residents, and their autos, pets, and children. One customer provided the actual tree names so they would be authentic. One family asked to show their young daughter playing on the front walkway; still another wanted a son and his collie dog depicted at the front door. Some houses were designed with 3D components that projected from the purse. One blind customer received a house purse with designed created with raised paint so she could feel the texture of the decorations.
The keepsake wood purse that Mrs. Nelle Chesley received in 1968 was based upon her house located at 311 Carlton Road in Syracuse, NY. Frederick F. Chesley and Nelle Offutt Chesley purchased their house in 1954. As you can see in the photos of the front and back of Mrs. Chesley’s wood house purse, it is painted yellow with black shutters. It features an arched door in the front, a large conifer tree on the right side, and what appear to be rose bushes on each side of the green front door. The photo of the back side of the house features a large bay window, a pink tree that is possibly a dogwood. A chimney and fireplace protrude from one side. Mrs. Chesley lifted and closed the roof to access the contents of her purse and carried it via a black leather strap. Inside the roof area, Mercedes Hitchcock signed Mrs. Chesely’s wood house purse with this inscription, “Created especially for Nell[e] Chesley, [copyright] ’68, Houses By Hitchcock.”
Undoubtedly, Mrs. Nelle Chesley cherished and used this purse for many years. Even after Frederick and Nelle sold their house at 311 Carlton Road in 1975, she kept it and eventually gave it to her son, Frederick F. Chesley, Jr. and his wife, Barbara. Mrs. Chesley died in Sarasota, FL in 1997. In 2016, Mrs. Chesley’s daughter-in-law, Barbara, donated the purse to OHA. It is a wonderful and unusual item to have in OHA’s collection and we will admire it and share it the community for many years to come.