This painting was once hidden on the underside of a chest lid. The chest may have been used to hold personal items or to store meeting and ritual supplies in a lodge. The panoply of symbols would have served as a reminder of Masonic values each time the lid was raised. Although the artist is not known, the proficient handling of the drapery and rosettes, the perspective receding into the distance, and the smoky effect of the floorboards suggest the work of an experienced decorative painter.
Two columns flank a central motif of a square and compasses symbol, signifying reason and faith. The square rests on a smooth ashlar, representing the state of perfection achieved through virtuous education. The leafy branch that grows up through the middle is probably meant to be the biblical acacia, from the Book of Exodus, the material used for the Ark of the Covenant and a Masonic symbol of immortality. The twenty-four-inch gauge stands for the twenty-four hours in a day, divided equally into time for God, vocations, and rest. The trowel is symbolically used to spread the cement that unites Masons in brotherly love. The beehive signals industry.
Stacy C. Hollander, "Chest Lid with Masonic Painting," exhibition label for Mystery and Benevolence: Masonic and Odd Fellows Folk Art from the Kendra and Allan Daniel Collection. Stacy C. Hollander, curator. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2016.