In 1774, an Englishwoman named Ann Lee traveled to America with eight followers to found the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, commonly referred to as Shakers due to the dancing that characterized their worship.
Adopting celibacy, the Shakers traded traditional family life and personal ownership to live as brothers and sisters in a community where everyone was considered equal and all property was owned communally. Believing that “Mother” Ann Lee was a manifestation of the returned Christ, her followers strove to live a life of perfection in service to others. Their movement grew to six thousand adherents by 1840, all converts. Today, their number has dwindled to a mere handful of members at Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in Maine.
The Shakers trusted that God was evident in the excellence of their craftsmanship. The furniture they made by hand was world-renowned. Becoming prosperous by supplying quality goods, they shared generously with the less fortunate. They even invented such useful items as clothespins and the circular saw, and shared their designs.
Simplicity and utility were the hallmarks of Shaker life, and also of their designs. Probably the quintessential item of Shaker furniture was the ladderback chair. They were made with horizontal slats on the back, which facilitated hanging them from a peg rail to free floor space when they weren’t in use. (Click on smaller photos to enlarge and see credits.)
Today, interior designers still employ the simple lines of Shaker style cabinetry. Copies of Shaker furniture abound, though actual examples of pieces handmade by Shaker artisans are highly sought and prized.
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