Monday, November 26, 2007

Snippets on Shakers

A friend and I are giving a presentation on Shakers (or, the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, as they called themselves) to the Howard County, MD Woodworkers Guild this Saturday, so I'm busy preparing notes and organizing photos.

I have a special affinity with the Shakers, whose religious movement began in 1747 by a woman named Mother Ann (Lee), maybe because some of their basic tenants are in line with my own: honesty & integrity, industry & diligence, prudence & economy, humanity & kindness, cleanliness, order, humility, perfection, and equality of the sexes, to name a few. "Shakers" was a derogatory name ascribed to the Believers because of their worship practices where they were found to whirl, tremble and shake. Okay...probably my similarities with them would stop there.

The Shakers' principles influenced every part of their daily lives, labor, and furniture design. Highly skilled craftsmen built chests of drawers, tables, sewing desks, chairs, and other things, that were based on contemporary designs of the time, but that were pared down to their most basic elements of simplicity, proportion, scale, hierarchy, and pattern, forcing the observer to notice the design fundamentals, unencumbered by ornamentation and superfluous extravagance.

Shaker furniture was built on a scale not seen in worldly design, because it was made for their communities, each of which often consisted of several hundred people. So, we find built-in cabinetry with 860 drawers at the Enfield Shaker Village in New Hampshire, trestle tables over 20 feet in length, workbenches that were 18 feet long (sweet!), and tailoring counters that were 6-12 feet long and 4 feet wide, with drawers on all sides. Highly efficient and industrious folks who possessed exquisite craftsmanship.

I could go on and on about the Shakers, but I'll post more some other time. I will leave you with this tidbit: Tabitha Babitt, a Shaker woman, is credited with inventing the circular saw...

...and these photos: taken on my trip to the Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, MA. (Note to my woodworking friends: Yes, that is THE workbench.)