Shaker Furniture

I am very interested in furniture and the history that surrounds its creation. I grew up surrounded by pieces of furniture being restored as this was my father’s craft. Every weekend we would go to auction sales so that Dad could buy up old pieces of furniture to restore. I was only talking about this recently to one of the blog subscribers, recounting how my Dad bought a stable and its contents from Spray Farm House on the Bellarine Peninsular (Victoria) for the pieces of old wooden furniture that had been discarded as useless years ago.

Of all art forms furniture has to meet the greatest variety of requirements. It has to be functional for everybody using it across all ages and physical ability. How often have you sat on a couch that the youngsters adore but you couldn't get your ageing body to do the gymnastic manoeuvres to get up and back on your feet! But we also want our furniture to be attractive. And not only attractive to match the rest of the furniture in the home; it has to be representative of the style you want to portray. I also believe that the furniture we surround ourselves with has a significant effect on our mental health. In my mind Shaker Furniture meets many of these requirements. I love the simple design and the elegance of the line as illustrated by this beautiful chair made by a Shaker Craftsman. I love the fact it only has one arm rest. Who needs two? And it's much easier to get out of a chair with only one!

The Shakers formed as a religious group in the northwest of England in the C18th as a break away from the Quakers with the members migrating to America in 1774 under the leadership of Mother Ann Lee who had been imprisoned in England for her unorthodox religious beliefs. The Shakers lived by the guiding principles of simplicity, utility and honesty taking a functional minimalist approach to their craft especially to the making of furniture for which they became well known in the mid 1800s.

Here we see two rockers in the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, USA which is on the site of a Shaker religious community that was active from 1805 to 1910.

The Shaker furniture was based on the furniture used by the ordinary people, the rural vernacular furniture of the time and therefore you will see a great similarity to other cottage furniture. It’s main purpose was to be functional, easily moved, long lasting and no decorative details like inlays or carvings were used. But there was no need to make it ugly! Beautiful pieces were encouraged so long as its functionality was foremost.

The craftsmen making the furniture came to the religious movement possessing their skills so they bought not only their skills but societal influences. But while other furniture makers were using imported woods such as mahogany and rosewood, the Shakers used local American woods such as pine, maple, and cherry. This is a cherry and butternut drop leaf table.

And the Shaker craftsmen became inventive to meet the guiding principles of the Shaker doctrine. I particularly like their peg rail which ran around the walls like a pelmet but lower. On the pegs they could hang clothes, hats and light furniture such as chairs when not in use.
And I am sure many of you will appreciate this wonderful sewing desk made by Benjamin Smith (1829-1899) from Canterbury, New Hampshire. This is a fabulous example of the asymmetrical drawer arrangements the Shakers became known for.

Shaker interest in efficiency made them open to technological advances in farming implements, in kitchen tools and in furniture production. This is the basketmaking shop in the Hancock Shaker Village, Massachusetts.
The Shaker wood working skills were not confined to furniture making. Look at the beautiful interior of the Round Stone Barn in the Hancock Shaker Village, Massachusetts.
And look at these beautiful containers made by the Shakers.
The influence the Shaker designs have had on the making of furniture throughout the world is significant. I found this cabinet, based on the Shaker Design, was made by a craftsman in the Armish community.
If you are interested in the making of furniture and furniture as an art form please follow these links for further information on the influence of Shaker designs.

Anne Newman

Oil Painter in realistic genre style, predominantly buildings and people. To continue the discussion contact Anne on or phone +61 407 516 522

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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