The Influence Of Shaker Furniture On Today's Furniture Market

1749 words - 7 pages

The Shaker's austere concept of what made for a good life with heavenly rewards was reflected in everything they did and the severe simplicity of their work and the scrupulous workmanship that was insistently practiced resulting in an esthetic standard that anticipated the popular functionalism of twentieth-century American art and architecture. "Principles of Shaker furniture consisted of union (basic uniformity of design), equality of sexes (balance, proportion), utilitarianism (adoption to needs, durability), honesty (mastery of techniques), humility and simplicity (absence of pretense or adornment), purity (a sense of pure form)(Andrews People 126). These precepts placed great influence of every day activities in a Shaker's life; therefore, the furniture produced cannot be greatly appreciated without understanding the people and their socio-religious background.Shakers derived originally from a small branch of radical English Quakers who had ritual practices of shaking, shouting, dancing, whirling, and singing in tongues. Ann Lee, an illiterate textile worker of Manchester, who was converted to the "Shaking Quakers" in 1758, formulated the Shaker Doctrine. In 1774 Ann Lee came to America with eight disciples, having been charged by a new revelation to establish the millennial church in the New World. Ann Lee was regarded as the female aspect of God's dual nature and the second incarnation of Christ bringing forth the doctrines of celibacy, Christian communion, and separatism (Shaker Village). America's shift to materialism and the general exposition of doctrines made the Shakers separatist and may be summarized in the definition of "Resurrection State" made by Ann Lee, which declares abstinence and claims that "Weakness of the flesh was the cause of worldliness" (Andrews furniture 12). Settlement in New England and the upper Hudson River is where Lee's doctrine manifest forming distinct religious order of life as well as a specific craftsmanship (Walter Harris).Ann Lee, later called Mother Ann, had two brothers, William and James Whittaker who dealt largely with primitive Christian virtues (freedom over evil and absolution from sin through public confession). James Whittaker had taken over the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing or Shaker society after Ann Lee had died in 1784. Whittaker had anticipated the necessity of a united society of a common stock when he declared that "the time is come for you to give up yourselves and your all to God-your substance, your temporal prosperity-to possess as though you possessed not" (Andrews Furniture 10). Before Whittaker died in 1787, he directed the building of the first meetinghouse in 1785 at New Lebanon, signifying the advent of a new cult. New Lebanon was the first society to be brought into gospel order and was considered the "fountainhead" of Shakerism and the home of the central ministry. With New Lebanon being the parent colony, the other...

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