Preserving and sharing our Masonic heritage

Wood, Boxes and Canes

Throughout history wood has been used to create useful as well as beautiful and decorative objects. In the early 19th century vast forests still remained in North America, supplying a ready resource for all manner of tools and objects used in daily life. Self-taught artisans created utilitarian objects such as bowls, chairs, tools, boxes, and shelves. Most wood folk objects were made for use, with decoration as a secondary concern.

Occasionally, however, one finds things which were made simply for the pleasure of the making. Masonic folk art is an example of artisans creating wood objects to beautify their lodge. Handmade wooden pillars, chairs, altars, and ritual objects were created to grace the lodge room and honor the brotherhood. Boxes, canes, and artwork, created to store aprons or educate the initiate, were carved or inlaid with Masonic symbols. The symbolic vocabulary of the craft, used as decoration and ornament on household objects, thus became part of the everyday. These eloquent objects, in which the myths, tenets, and values of fraternity are celebrated, have survived through generations and continue to inspire us.


Master Wall Hanging | Circa 1920-1960
Wood | 8″ diameter
Acc# 96.17.1

The round wooden wall hanging of a square and compass with “G” in the center is typical of small wood working craft pieces from the middle of the 20th century. Considered a form of sculpture, these pieces are often made for the maker’s own pleasure and that of his Masonic community.

Minature Lodge Room | Circa 1850-1900
Wood and bone | 3″x 6″x2 1/2″
Acc# 2002.2


Although little is known about this small wooden box, it seems to be a miniature lodge room with miniature working tools affixed to the lid. It appears that the box and its interior were made sometime in the early to late 19th century with the miniature wood and bone tools added some time later in the 20th century. Boxes such as this, although rare, were used as a teaching aid for new candidates and also for those officers learning the floor work for the three degrees of Freemasonry.


Masonic Wall Hanging | Circa 1930-1940
Wood | 33” x 7 1/2”
Acc# 82.25

Purchased by Brother Sim Alvin Johnson of Mount Vernon Lodge No. 517 in the 1930s while traveling through Arkansas, the maker this piece sold his sculptures for whatever was offered for his work. The sculpture is in three parts joined by carved wooden chain links: the top is a Shrine emblem, center is the Scottish Rite emblem, and bottom are Masonic emblems. Each section is inlaid with various symbols from each body of Freemasonry.


Wood box | Circa 1900
wood, brass, bone | "4 1/2 x 2 1/2 x 1 1/2"
Acc# 90.36.1

Found in an antique shop in Paris, this small handmade wooden box with brass fittings seems to be of Masonic origin. The right side of the box has a carved opening with a brass lid and a central carved figure of bone holding a key in a niche with stairway. On top of the niche is a two handled cup. Pressing the carved figure activates the lock for the box. Seven brass symbols mounted on the front (U, V, C, T, square, compass, hammer, ax, pinchers, awl, and planer) surround a carved figure that may allude to a fraternal organization such as the Compagnons du Devoir, a French organization of craftsmen and artisans dating from the Middle Ages.


York Rite Powder Horn | Circa 1827
Cow horn | 12 1/2″ x 6″
Acc# 2019.4.1

Made from a cow horn, this powder horn is covered in Masonic symbols, animal caricatures, and text engraved on the surface. The hand carvings feature text such as “Arms Of The Ancient York Mason 1827” and ritual phrases such as “And The Darkness Comprehended It Not” from the Gospel of John. Few objects from colonial America had such a personal connection to their owners as the powder horns used by soldiers, settlers, and American Indians to store gunpowder. In a world where firearms were necessary tools, the powder horn – made from the lightweight and hollow horn of a cow – served as the constant companion of thousands of frontier residents. While powder horns kept gunpowder dry, many owners also recognized the smooth surface of the horn as the ideal place to leave their mark. They etched names, dates, maps, and war records, as well as purely whimsical figures, into the objects.

Lacquer Box | Circa 1830-1850
Lacquerware, nacre | 5″ x 16 x 12 1/2″
Acc# 2013.1.1


This black lacquered wooden Masonic keepsake box was made in Japan in the early to the middle of the 19th century. The box is decorated with inlayed mother of pearl floral designs and Masonic symbols: eye, altar, beehive, hourglass, compasses, square, clasped hands, and trowel. As Freemasonry did not exist in Japan at this period, it is speculated that Japanese craftsman produced such boxes for sea captains and European trade.


Masonic Shelf | Circa 1850-1900
Wood | 18” x 10 1/2 x 6"”
Acc# 99.26.25

The carved wooden wall mounted shelf with Masonic symbols was donated by Emmanuel Beber in 1999 along with a large collection of Masonic artifacts and jewelry. The design seems to have been a popular one as many examples of this style of shelf can be found in Masonic collections throughout the country. Many of the shelves are from Massachusetts suggesting that this style of Masonic woodwork arose from a folk-art tradition in New England


Wooden Walking Stick | Circa 1925
wood and bone | 34 " x 4"
Acc# 476.1

This walking stick belonged to Paul B. Aitken, member of Sunset Lodge No. 352. Made in Washington D.C. from lumber taken from the U.S.S. Constitution, it is elegantly carved with multiple Masonic symbols running down its length with a turned bone handle. The USS Constitution, a wooden-hulled, three-masted United States frigate named by President George Washington, is the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel still afloat and currently anchored in Boston Harbor. The ship has been restored several times, the first time in 1833. The cane was most likely made from discarded wood from the restoration efforts of the 1920s sponsored by the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.


Two Ball Walking Stick | Circa 1897
Wood | 37″ x 3″
Acc# 99.7

The two-ball walking stick has been a popular Masonic folk-art motif for over a century. The main feature of this style of cane is a series of two cages enclosing two freely moving balls in honor of the biblical figure, Tubal Cain. This cane was hand carved in 1897 by Lanthis Jerome Rolf (1826-1907) Past Master of Nevada Lodge No. 13, 1875-1877. The cane incorporates several Masonic symbols as well as carvings of tools, a snake, a frog and a double dogs head for the head of the cane. PM Rolf also carved his name and the date along the bottom of the cage below the head of the cane.