Shaker History

In 1774, an English mystic named Mother Ann Lee founded the first Shaker settlement in New York State. She was worshipped as a saint, but reviled as a witch, a spy, a drunkard, and a libertine, Mother Ann lived to see her settlement prosper and by the beginning of the Civil War, there were nineteen Shaker villages in eight states, with a combined population of over six thousand.

Mother Ann's vision of paradise - celibate, communist, pacifist, egalitarian - is practically non-existent today. Today, Sabbathday Lake in Maine is the only remaining active Shaker community and many of the empty villages are museums.

Circular saws, flat brooms, clothes pins, packaged seeds, swivel chairs, all first came out of Shaker workshops. The Shaker design is easy to recognize - elegant, practical, spare, precise, unornamented. Perfection, not beauty, drove the Shakers. Every object had to retain its use for eternity.

Oval storage boxes, perhaps the most famous of Shaker designs, were built to last forever. Though the wood is light and delicate, the construction enables it to breathe without warping, and the copper nails will never rust.

Shaker objects are models of utility, precision, and cleanliness, in which beauty has no part.