all your work as though you had a thousand years
to live, and as you would if you knew you must
In their daily life, the Shakers infused their
every task with the divine light by which they
lived. Their beliefs directed hands and commerce
toward their goal of simplicity, utility, spirituality
true story of a culture and a people isn't to
be found in great and monumental works. Instead,
it is found in the mundane, the everyday and
the common. How their lives were lived, the
implements of their labor and the products of
their commerce tell the true story of a people.
If nothing else, the outpouring of Shaker craftsmanship,
coveted today by collectors and bid up to unbelievable
heights by auctioneers, is the public expression
of their lives. But these popular cultural icons
tell only one side of this people.
is little known is that the sect that came to
be known as the Shakers began in the Hudson
Valley. Their central ministry, now known as
Mount Lebanon Shaker Village, is to be found
just a few miles from the Shaker Museum on the
western flanks of the Taconics. This central
ministry, now abandoned and a tattered remnant
of its former size, directed the sect and governed
its growth and slow demise.
Mount Lebanon declined, the founder and benefactor
of the Shaker Museum formed a relationship with
the remaining sect members and began purchasing
and protecting the artifacts of their lives.
All manner of objects covering every aspect
of daily life were collected over several decades.
This effort is now the unparalleled collections
on display at the Shaker Museum & Library
in Old Chatham. Objects range from tools to
toys, from baskets to pottery, from furniture
to ephemera. The whole range of objects used
daily by the Shakers in their pleasures and
labors is available for exploration and study.
museum of such importance may not initially
meet with your preconceptions. It is not housed
in some great stone hermetically sealed building.
Rather, it is a procession of old barns, coops
and buildings, each space either set up as a
recreation of a workshop or room displaying
the collections in as close a setting to reality
as possible, or set up as display space exhibiting
interpreted information educating you in a soft
way about what you are viewing.
first space you enter in the great barn is filled
with furniture, those pop cultural icons that
we all recognize and admire. Boxes, a line of
chairs, side boards, chests, closets, commercial
storage, all glowing in their simplicity of
line and purity of form. Then you walk into
the rest of the museum, past a room with nothing
but examples of heating stoves, past a kitchen
with all the pots and pans and utensils for
the preparation of their food in place. There
is the wood working shop, the metals shop and
more, all filled with the mundane tools and
simple implements of the crafts.
us, possibly the most spectacular display is
a room seemingly filled with dozens of Shaker
chairs, lined up and hanging, identified and
displayed. You have the opportunity to see the
evolution of their chair, the stylistic differences
between manufacturing villages, displays showing
the techniques of construction and the techniques
of seat weaving. This most commercial and yet
now iconographic of crafts laid out before you
in the rich fullness of its subtle diversity.
you will not see at the Museum is almost as
important to know as what you will see. If you
are searching for examples of legendary Shaker
architecture and buildings, you will not find
it here. There are no Shaker buildings at the
museum, with the exception of a small and insignificant
single room school house brought to the grounds.
If Shaker buildings are what you are searching
for, you might want to go to the Hancock Shaker
Village located barely over the border in Mass.
from Mount Lebanon Shaker Village. There you
will find the famous octagonal stone barn and
several Shaker dwellings and other buildings.
At Mount Lebanon there is a small display dealing
with the development of the village and the
"families" that were established there.
You can go into a couple of buildings, none
of which are of great importance and walk the
road and view from the outside what is left
of the North Family buildings, now occupied
by a prep school
anyone who appreciates great devotion to extraordinary
craftsmanship, a visit to the Shaker Museum
and Library is a must. Although potentially
a little dry for children, there is sufficient
there to capture their attention and hold their
interest. Getting to the Shaker Museum &
Library is a trip up and down two lane country
roads, but the signage is excellent and getting
lost is difficult. The Shaker Museum & Library
is open from late April through October. A small
fee is charged and you are then free to wander
the buildings at your own pace. A well stocked
gift shop is available filled with Shaker reproductions
and books on the Shakers.