59 School Street, Box 1310, Edgartown MA 02539 - 508.627.4441
Martha's Vineyard Museum MV Museum


c. 1825–1850


Leather, camphor wood, brass

Gift of Mary Kidder Rak

"Upon the death of my aunt, Susan W. Luce of West Tisbury, about fourteen years ago, . . . I reserved one thing only, a handsome and valuable cedar chest which had belonged to my grandparents, Captain William H. Luce and his wife, Betsy Pease (Vincent) Luce."
—Mary Kidder Rak, Douglas, Arizona, 1939

The chest came from China. Made for the export market and painted with a design that was calculated to appeal to Western tastes, it may have been purchased by Captain Luce during one of his whaling voyages, like so many of the treasured possessions that were passed down through generations of Vineyard families. Countless Chinese embroidered silks, porcelain teapots and cups, lacquered tables, and sewing kits fitted with carved ivory tools—all found their way into Edgartown, Tisbury, and Chilmark homes.

Mary Kidder Rak was not herself from Martha's Vineyard, but her parents were, and she valued her Island heritage. Her father, Ichabod Norton Kidder, was born in Edgartown, and her mother, Eliza Allen Luce, came from Tisbury. The Kidders left the Island and settled in Boone, Iowa, where Mary was born. She graduated from Stanford University and became a teacher and social worker. In 1919 she and her husband, Charles Lukeman Rak, moved to Arizona and bought a ranch. In 1934 she wrote the acclaimed memoir A Cowman's Wife, in which she recounted the trials and pleasures of ranch life.

The Luces—Richard and his wife, Virginia, and their children—lived on William Street in Vineyard Haven, though for twenty-seven years he spent only a few months at a time there between his voyages. Built in 1833 his home was the first and finest Greek Revival–style house in a neighborhood that came to be known for its impressive residences.