I absolutely adore the simplistic beauty, craftsmanship and utilitarian qualities of Shaker Furniture. In fact if I had to choose a furniture aesthetic that best suits me, Shaker is what I gravitate toward.
"Hand's to work and hearts to God" was the motto followed by the American religious sect known as Shakers in the 18th and 19th centuries and nowhere was this more evident than the furniture and they produced.
Mid 19th C. Shaker Step Back Cupboard with original finish
The philosophy of the shakers under the leadership of Mother Ann Lee was simplicity, celibacy, pacifism, confession, equality and communal living. The 'millennial laws', governing every aspect of their daily lives, stated that they live apart from the outside world, produce only the items required for their own use and to make those items with excellent craftsmanship.
Shaker drawer with dovetail detail
Mortise and Tenon joinery...typical of Shaker construction
|19th C. Original Shaker Lemon Yellow Painted Pail|
Rare 19th C. American Shaker Box with original Cranberry Red finish...the joinery is known as 'swallowtail'
Mid 19th C. Shaker Canted Corner Large Dovetail Carrier
The original furniture they produced was heavily influenced by neo-classical styles such as Sheraton and Hepplewhite, but with a more simplified design to to accomodate their strong beliefs. As a result of their dedication to excellent craftmanship, we in the 21st century are able to utilise and appreciate some of these original pieces of furniture and also some of their household items as decorative accessories.
Rare 19th C. American Shaker Shawl Rocker with original finish
The Ladder-Back chair is one of the most recognized pieces of Shaker furniture. The seats were often made of rush, cane, woven strips, cloth or wood.
Mid 19th C. Tilted Shaker chair
|Classic mid 19th C. Shaker Ministry Table|
Woodworking, as with all other types of Shaker labour, was considered a form of worship. They used wood readily available on the land they owned including, pine, oak, birch, cherry butternut and hickory.
Furniture built for their own use was usally left natural, varnished or painted black however pieces produced to sell were painted in red, green, blue or yellow.
|American Shaker Tall Chest circa 1820|
The desire for perfection and longevity of the pieces they designed and constructed was so great that there are still numerous furntiure items, as evidenced above, that are to this day in pristine condition: a testament to their devotion.
Shaker furniture and household items have certainly stood the test of time. I would also argue that the Shaker creed of building green, quality, long lasting furniture has not been lost with the very much diminished population of the Shaker sect. Instead there is a resurgence, not rooted in religious beliefs, but perhaps of the mindset that there is also value to handcrafted furniture now in the 21st century.
source a: http://www.equinoxantiques.com/products/Shaker+Furniture/available
source b: http://blog.woodworking-magazine.com/blog/
source c: www.finewoodworking.com