The Shakers Are Movers, Too


Chatham, NY – In an earlier life, the moribund red brick Victorian at the foot of Main Street in this thriving Columbia County village was a sanatorium, a hotel and inn, a furniture store, and an auto dealership. These were hot works for its latest incarnation: a permanent new home for the Shaker Museum, widely regarded as the nation’s most important collection of Shaker furniture, objects, and archival material. The museum, to open in 2023 and to include a new addition, is being designed by the architect Annabelle Selldorf, whose current projects include expansion of Frick Collection in New York and an addition to the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego La Jolla.

“Modern architects love the clarity and simplicity of Shaker furniture and architecture,” said Ms Selldorf. “But of course, it’s much deeper than that. It’s about equality, sustainability, and community, to mention a few values. The pairing of both impressed me immensely.”

The collection, which is online, is physically housed in some dilapidated agricultural buildings and has not been in public view for a decade. The new $18 million complex will feature a conservation and storage facility, permanent and rotating exhibitions, a public reading room, and a community space. Ms Selldorf, a court architect for the art world, designed a series of glass links to connect the old and new structures. These would open up to a Shaker-inspired landscape by the firm Nelson Bird Waltz There is a small garden of concentric circles made of medicinal and native plants and based on the Shakakar dance. Selldorf’s renderings, along with some stellar pieces, are currently on view at “The Future is a Gift,” a pop-up exhibition in Chatham, a village located close to the Shaker Heartlands of New Lebanon, NY and is. Hancock, Mass..

The new museum is the latest example of William D. Moore, director of the American and New England Studies Program at Boston University, has dubbed it “shaker fever.” maybe no one was more stricken than this John Stanton Williams (1902–1982), The wealthy New York stockbroker-turned-gentleman farmer, whose passion for ancient farm equipment eventually led him to Shaker Barns and then to the communities, where he amassed an encyclopedic collection of more than 18,000 items that form the backbone of the new facility.

Unlike competitors who bought with an eye for resale, Williams was a nerd whose primary interest in the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, as the Shakers were officially known, was his entrepreneurial and technical acumen. . He befriended the Eldresses and the Sisters, gathering together prominent fragments of a religious sect known at the time for sectarian practices, including celibacy, shared economic resources, male and female leadership, hatred of excesses and giving rise to the popular name. There were enthusiastic liturgical dances. “Shakers.”

The qualities that most attracted Williams were the Shakers’ embrace of new technology and their economic independence and business savvy. Leading items produced by the Shakers for commercial consumption were seeds in packets, medicinal compounds, chairs, brooms, collegiate letter sweaters, wooden buckets and women’s cloaks (in dark red, as opposed to the black ones worn by the Shakers sisters). . In addition to now-antique furniture in original paint including Shaker Blue, Williams purchased materials such as washing machines, fire engines, hand looms for weaving, mortizing machines for making beams, bonnets, and a blacksmith’s shop, to name a few.

The Shakers also repurposed familiar objects – one of the collection’s more interesting artifacts is an 1830s rocking chair crafted from wooden wheels to accommodate disabled people, and a pair of blue orthopedic shoes. is an early example. Rather than focusing on Shakers as subjects of New Deal photography or as pioneers of modernism, Williams examined their Protestant work ethic and Yankee ingenuity, his works such as “anthropologists documenting the decline of a culture”. Approached, Prof. Moore said. He also gathered an influential community of supporters including Norman Rockwell, Eric Sloane and Zelina Brunschwig, Textile Designer and President of the renowned Fabric House.

The museum’s exhibition is still in its infancy. Guest curator Maggie Taft said the permanent exhibition would address fundamental aspects of Shakerism, which reached its peak in the 1840s with 18 villages from Maine to Kentucky, but also unexpected subtexts. The sect – an international Protestant monastic community – was founded in 1774 by Mother Ann Lee, the charismatic illiterate daughter of an English blacksmith (a specimen of one of her aprons is one of the museum’s most prized possessions).

Although the sect was known for gender equality, Ms Taft said that women and men were “divided in a manner similar to worldly divisions of labor” – with men working outside on agriculture and other tasks while women at home. Worked inside. The exhibition will also explore different generations of Shakerism, especially the third generation after Mother Ann Lee’s death in 1784, when “encounters” of young women with them appeared in paintings and texts that were believed to be “gifts” from spirits. .

Additional, modern furnishings for which the Shakers are best known are usually showcased for their aesthetics. However, these pieces were not for personal use, but were shared between groups or men and women. Time has shed light on the pine wheelbarrow shown at the 1986 “Shaker Design” show at the Whitney Museum, which was used to clear the land: Research has shown it holds boxes of drugs. The idea would be to go beyond the visual to focus on the human aspects of the furniture.

“The Shakers were radical in the type of decisions they made about gender equality, racial equality, vegetarianism, access, shared property and pacifism – far more progressive choices than their contemporaries and things we are still wrestling with today,” Ms. Taft said.

The 30,000 visitors a year who are estimated to visit the museum would be a boon to Columbia County, where about 15 percent of the housing stock consists of second homes, usually owned by weekend New Yorkers. What seems likely to spark a Shaker tourism circuit would include Hancock Shaker Village in nearby Pittsfield, Mass., a living history museum with an archetypal round barn, baby animal, and goat yoga.

The Shaker Museum occupies 91 acres with 10 Shaker buildings in nearby New Lebanon, Mount Lebanon, once the spiritual and administrative mother ship of Shaker communities in New England, Kentucky, Ohio, and Florida. A centerpiece is the shell of the Great Stone Barn, a National Historic Landmark that was damaged by fire in the 1970s. Its simple three-story design – “a building of a machine”, in the words of the museum’s director of collections and research Jerry V. Grant – was built into a hill and allowed the cows to collect hay below, in which manure was deposited. It was carried by a railway system into a vault from where it could be taken to pastures. This was an early example of sustainability. “They were at it,” said the museum’s executive director, Lacey Schutz.

Once the province of the Northern Family, as the community was known, museum property in New Lebanon includes a still elegant granary that, like many of the museum’s objects, expresses the spirit of the human hand, including order. There are pencil marks for . Beam. The museum has restored hiking trails between the stone walls and is offering tours of the collection this summer.

Mr. Grant said the Shakers themselves would not understand the passion for aesthetics that persists among Shaker furniture collectors and imitators today; They were merely trying to create a physical environment that harmonized and did not interfere with how they chose to live their lives.

For the Shakers, material culture was not spiritual, Arnold Haidt, brother of the Sabbathday Lake Shakers in Maine, once explained to an interviewer. It was just material. The Shakers were “the smartest Yankees going,” he said. “We are the ultimate capitalist communists.”


Visiting Shaker Sites in New York

information about summer series A number of events take place at several Shaker sites, including a walking tour of the grounds of historic Mount Lebanon and a tour of the collections at Old Chatham (where the collection is currently stored at 88 Shaker Museum Road): shakersmerceries21.com. Tours are also by appointment.



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