Medieval Cooler Chest(s)

Master Dafydd ap Gwystl and Master Terafan Greydragon have created a couple of different painted cooler chests, intended to appear as medieval chests with the added ability of keeping things cold at events.  

The chest is loosely based upon a late 15th century Italian cassone in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  The cassone was covered in gesso and painted, which seemed like a good idea for a fancy cooler..

Cassone in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Late 15th century, Italian.

Dafydd started with the "Alpha" model, which was basically find a white styrofoam cooler that had straight sides (not slanted).  Then build a plywood box around it.  Glue muslin onto the box and then apply several layers of gesso until you have the thickness and smoothness you want.   Paint the gesso, and voila!   You have a painted cooler chest. 

The problem is that when you put ice (which eventually becomes water) in white styrofoam coolers, the water tends to soak through the cooler after some time, and into the box (especially the gesso and paint).  This can really damage the box and ruin all your work.  So the solution was to find some kind of plastic container that would fit inside the cooler so that it (the plastic container) would keep all the water and ice away from the foam, and the foam would retain most of the cool temperature inside the chest. 

I built an "Alpha" model, and painted it with images that are a reference to me.  The images on the four sides of Terafan's "Alpha model" chest come are the following: 

  1. Terafan's achievement, including mantling and motto
  2. The Red Dragon of Wales (because Terafan is Welsh)
  3. A modified version of Sir Geoffrey Lutrell from the Lutrell Psalter
  4. A modified version of the tavern scene in ????


The top of the chest is a Bakgamon game board, which is useful for in-pavilion entertainment.

The next step was the "Beta" model.  Rather than trying to find a plastic container that fit in the foam container you have, it made much more sense to get a plastic container in the size you want/need, and then build the box around the container.  This resulted in the following:

  1. Find a plastic container the size you wanted.  In our case the mandatory criteria (for Countess Elizabeth) was that it must be able to fit a 2-liter bottle of Pepsi. 
  2. Now get a sheet of  blue (or pink) construction foam (normally about 1/2") and fit pieces of the foam around the container.  Build a box (from plywood or some other cheap wood) around the container and foam. 
  3. Glue muslin onto the outside of the box and apply gesso.
  4. Have a friend make period handles and attach them to the box. 
  5. Glue the pieces of foam into the box and wrap the container in a garbage bag as tightly as possible.  Insert the container into the box, and then fill the holes between the sheet foam and the container with expand-o-foam (from the spray can). At this point the container and box should be left alone for a day or two. The expanding foam will take a long time to dry, due to lack of air contact.  After a couple of days, you can open the garbage bag and remove the container, and then carefully pull the garbage bag away from the dried expand-o-foam. 
  6. You should now have a form fitting cavity for the container.  You can ignore the container lid and just glue some of the sheet foam to the box lid so that you get a good seal against the other foam in the box (around the container)
  7. Paint the box and voila!  Painted cooler chest.

Here are some photos of the "Beta" model during the construction stage of the chest. The "Beta" model is still in progress. We hope to bring you additional photos as the chest nears completion.

For greater detail, click on the thumbnail to see the large photo.

Handle of the cooler chest Inside of the cooler, and the container sitting on top of the lid Another shot of the inside A shot of the cooler showing the pencil drawing on one side Showing the container inside the cooler
Thumbnail of big cooler #1 Thumbnail of big cooler #2
Finished cooler
Click here for larger picture
Other side of finished cooler
Click here for larger picture

For complete images of the four sides and top of the large cooler (beta model), choose from below.  

Side #1
Side #2
Side #3
Side #4

Dimensions and drawings should not be necessary since you build the box to be the size you need, based on the container you get and the amount of foam you put around it. 

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