A Shaker relic

Framed piece of Mother Ann Lee's dress

Framed Piece of Linen Fabric, Church Family, Canterbury, NH, 1774, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1953.6173.

This framed piece of fabric was given to the Shaker Museum’s founder John S. Williams, Sr., in 1953 by Sister Marguerite Frost of the Church Family, Canterbury, NH. Williams’s son, Warden, recalled that his father was at Canterbury negotiating for the purchase of a number of objects for the Museum. By this time some of the Shakers had become invested in and committed to helping him establish a museum that they hoped would tell their story. Some had become particularly fond of Williams himself. At the end of the session, Sister Marguerite handed him a paper bag and told him not to open it until he got in his car. “Dad forgot to pick up the bag when he left the room and the Sisters had to come to his car and hand him the bag,” said Warden. When Williams had driven down the road a bit, he stopped the car and opened the bag to discover it contained a piece of fabric from the dress worn by Mother Ann Lee on her voyage from England to America in 1774. Warden remembered that this moment brought his usually stoic father to tears. The fabric is flanked by two pieces of paper with an inscription identifying the fragment on one and its provenance on the other: “Given to Sr. M. E. Hastings when at Mt. Leb., N.Y. in 1846. By her presented to Sister L. A. Shepard 1885.” Marcia E. Hastings (1811-1891) was a Canterbury Church Family Eldress and received this gift during a visit Mount Lebanon. In 1885 she passed it on to Sister Lucy Ann Shepard (1836-1926), best known for her work as a Canterbury Trustee responsible for the cloak business. The fabric was framed by the Shakers and was probably displayed in the community rather than being secreted away. Similar remembrances exist in several collections. The Shakers kept and protected them over the years, treasuring the connection they provided with early pillars of their church.

Piece of Mother Ann Lee's dress

Piece of Linen Fabric, Church Family, Canterbury, NH, 1774, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1953.6173.

The fabric has been identified as hand woven of hand-spun linen tread, but has not been definitively dated to the period of the Shakers’ ocean voyage. While there is no reason to think the piece is not legitimate, its authenticity is of little importance. What is important is that the Shakers believed it was real and treated it as if Mother Ann Lee had indeed worn it aboard Mariah sometime between May 10, 1774, when the small group of Shakers left Liverpool, and August 6, 1774, when they disembarked in New York City.

Years later, a poem title, “Last Remains of Mother’s Wardrobe, … Carefully preserved by Jennet Angus,” Watervliet, N. Y., was written about this or one of the other remembrances of Mother Ann. The manuscript poem is preserved in the Western Reserve Historical Society Library:

Unborn generations

Who come to Mother’s fold,

May feel some satisfaction

This relic to behold;

To know that Mother saw it,

And held it in her hand;

To know it cross’d the Ocean

With her, from Britain’s Land;

Will please her faithful children,

And bring her spirit near,

The Mother of all Zion,

Who lived and suffered here.”

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Break Every Yoke: Shakers, gender equality, and women’s suffrage, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon exhibition, 2017.

This object is on display at Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon this summer in the exhibition Break Every Yoke: Shakers, gender equality, and women’s suffrage. Supported by a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts and celebrating the centennial of women winning the right to vote in New York State, the exhibition opens with objects associated with Mother Ann Lee and a discussion of her role in founding the Shaker Church. From the beginning women were afforded a more significant role in every aspect of shaping the sect’s beliefs and practices than in most other churches or in society in general. The Shakers’ belief that God is both male and female and the example of a charismatic female founder and leader afforded Shaker women an advantage over groups believing in a paternalistic God-head.

The exhibition is accessible by guided tour only, Fridays through Mondays at 11:00, 12:00, and 2:00. Learn more by clicking here.

 

 

Sticks and scraps: A handle pattern survives

Pattern for the Handle for Large Carriers

Pattern for the Handle for Large Carriers, Church Family, Sabbathday Lake, ME, ca. 1950s, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 2017.4.1.

Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon’s founder, John S. Williams, Sr., often collected things that others ignored – Shaker things that others left behind or probably kicked aside. It was perhaps his time on the Board of Trustees for the Museum of the American Indian in New York City where he absorbed a cultural anthropologist’s approach to collecting rather than that of a fine arts curator. However it developed, Williams made it a point to acquire not only fine examples of the Shakers’ work, but the tools that they used and the scraps that were left behind as well. The museum hold a variety of scraps – bits and pieces of metal from the Shakers’ forges; uprights, weavers, handles, and rims from the basket-makers’ shop; pieces of cloth from the cloak workshop; bottles and corks from the medicinal business; leather from the shoemakers; bone from the button makers; and various pieces of unfinished work from the oval box shop. While these scraps have meaning in the course of researching these various industries, once in a while they play a part in a larger story. Such is the case with a thin 17 3/8″ long, 5/8″ wide stick that was acquired from the Shaker community at Sabbathday Lake, Maine.

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Brother Delmer C. Wilson in his Oval Carrier Workshop, Church Family, Sabbathday Lake, ME, ca. 1911, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1956.8025.1. “Presented by Brother Delmer Wilson of Sabbathday Lake, Me. Brought to Museum by Eldress Gertrude Soule & Sisters Mildred Barker and Ethel Peacock of Sabbathday Leke, Me., in May (23), 1956.”

The “stick” may have been picked up accidentally with other bits from a workshop or may have been a deliberate gift from its maker that later became mixed up with other non-distinct parts. The stick has an inscription carefully written on both sides with a fountain pen: “Sample of handle from large box – Made by Delmer C. Wilson. Do not destroy.” Brother Delmer Charles Wilson was born in Topsham, Maine, in 1873 and came to live with the Shakers as a boy of eight. Brother Delmer was a skilled mechanic and woodworker. In 1894 two sisters at Sabbathday Lake took two oval carriers that they were given at Mount Lebanon, lined them with cloth and most likely the fittings to make them into useful sewing boxes, took them to the Poland Springs Hotel, and sold them. This began a brisk market of selling all the old oval boxes that could be rounded up and renovated. In 1896, Brother Delmer began making new oval carriers for the sisters to line and fit out for sale. His work on carriers is well documented in an article that appeared in the Shaker Quarterly (Volume 15, Winter, 1987 and Volume 16, Spring, 1988) based on his journal “Carrier Notes,” and summarized by John Wilson. Brother Delmer died a few weeks before Christmas 1961 but had continued to make some carriers and boxes most of his life.

The Museum holds a number of examples of Brother Delmer’s carriers – mostly lined and fitted out for sale. Some were purchased fresh out of Brother Delmer’s workshop by John Williams at the Shaker store at Sabbathday Lake. The sample for the handle – as stated – is meant to give the precise size for the handles for Brother Delmer’s large carriers and, in fact, does exactly match the handles on large carriers in the Museum’s collection.

 

 

“Several of the best Mediums”: Shakers, Spiritualism, and camp meetings

 

The Shakers were no strangers to the concept of camp meetings. In the early days of the Shaker Church they saw such meetings – then usually very much of a religious nature – as an opportunity to testify about the Shaker faith and Shaker life with the hope of finding potential converts. As religious revivals burned through the Taconic Hills on the Massachusetts / New York border and later in the western part of New York State, the Shakers often sent missionaries to witness the work that was going on and to see if there was an opening for them to step forward and present themselves and their message of salvation. When the Great Kentucky Revival camp meetings at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, took hold in the early 1800s, Mother Lucy Wright sent three missionaries to what was then considered the West to preach the Shaker gospel to those gathered there. This effort resulted in a half-dozen Shaker communities being founded in Ohio and Kentucky.

In later years, camp meetings still retained a religious tone but began to stray beyond the strictly holy. Seventh-day Adventist camp meetings promoted vegetarianism and served only vegetarian meals. The camp meetings on Lake Chautauqua, New York, which started as Methodist meetings in the 1870s, soon evolved into a formal slate of lectures and performances that continue today. Pacifists gathered by the thousands outdoors in the pine groves of Salt Point, New York, to report on and discuss progress in the peace movement. The Shakers, proponents of many progressive movements, were particularly interested in the Spiritualists. The Shakers received messages from Mother Ann Lee and other departed leaders during the Era of Manifestations from the 1830s through the 1850s, and they believed this gave them a unique advantage in finding converts within the Spiritualist movement of the later 19th century.

 

In 1870 a camp meeting ground with 75 tent lots was established on the shore of Lake Pleasant, in the town of Montague, Massachusetts, and by 1872 it had become a favorite meetings place for Spiritualists. In 1874 Henry Buddington and Joseph Beals organized the New England Spiritualist Campmeeting Association. New cabins were built and more tenting lots created, and by August 1900 the population of the meeting ground could reach as high as 2,000 people.

Spiritualist’ and Liberalists’ Camp-Meeting. Lake Pleasant. Montague, Mass. August 4th. To August 30th. 1875

“Spiritualist’ and Liberalists’ Camp-Meeting. Lake Pleasant. Montague, Mass. August 4th. To August 30th. 1875,” Springfield, MA: G. E. Lyman & Co., Printers, 1875, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 2009.12.1.

The advertising flyer pictured here promoted the 1875 season. The description promised “a large Pavilion with tight roof, polished floor, open sides, built for dancing parties, dining salons, refreshment stands, boats, swings, bathing houses for ladies, sequestered walks by the Lake, artesian wells, affording soft, pure, cool, water; overlooking the auditorium, a bluff on which the tents are placed, under pine trees, … free from mosquitoes …” With this kind of promotion it seems an unlikely place for the Shakers to venture, but venture they did. In 1879, Elder Frederick Evans and Brother Emil Bretzner from Mount Lebanon’s North Family attended the camp and the next year a rather large contingent of Shakers from Mount Lebanon and Watervliet, New York, and Harvard, Massachusetts – 34 Shakers in all, went to Lake Pleasant. At the meeting on Wednesday, August 18, noted spiritual medium, Emma Hardinge Britten,  reported, “The Shakers were present in force, and conducted the exercises both morning and afternoon. Elder Evans, Eldress Doolittle, and other members of the party spoke. The singing was a novel portion of the exercises. Elder Evans is a radical speaker, and some of his remarks were loudly applauded. The audiences were very large during the day.”

“Lake Pleasant Camp-Meeting,” Montague, MA, 1880

“Lake Pleasant Camp-Meeting,” Montague, MA, 1880, Frank Crosier, Readsboro, VT, photographer, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1951.4407.1.

This photograph, taken in front of Joseph Beals’s tent, shows 20 of the Shakers who traveled to Lake Pleasant. Beals, one of the founders of the camp meetings, was a dentist and amateur photographer. Whether his tent was merely his August residence, a dental office, or a photographic studio is not known, but it is interesting that the photographer, Frank Crosier from Readsboro, Vermont, chose to take his picture of the Shakers in front of another photographer’s tent. While a number of Shakers are identifiable in the photograph – Elder Daniel Offord, Brother Orren Haskins, Sister Martha Anderson, Elder William Anderson, Brother Charles Greaves, Elder Amos Stewart, Elder Timothy Rayson, and one of the Sizer brothers – noticeably absent are Elder Frederick Evans and Eldress Antoinette Doolittle who we might guess were off lecturing the crowd.

 

“[A] new and improved mode of preventing the wear and tear of carpets and the marring of floors”

Side Chair with Pewter Tilter Buttons

Side Chair with Pewter Tilter Buttons, Second Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1855, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1950.215.1

The Shakers were clever, design savvy, and committed to caring for their property, as demonstrated by their use of the chair “tilter.” In the fall of 1819 Freegift Wells, an elder and woodworker at the Church Family, Watervliet, New York, recorded in his diary that he, “Began to trim off & ball the chairs,” that he had been making for the family. “Balling” the chairs was the term he used to describe inserting a small round wooden ball in the bottom of the back legs of chairs. The balls, flattened on their bottoms, were able to rotate within a socket in the bottom of the chair posts. The balls were held in place with a leather thong or cord passing through the bottom of the ball and then through a hole in the chair post, exiting on the side of the post where it was either tacked or wedged in its hole to keep the ball held tight in its socket. The purpose of the device was to reduce the marring of the softwood (usually pine) floor by the hardwood (usually maple or birch) chair legs when brothers or sisters, as they apparently did, leaned back in their chairs. Raising the front legs off the floor increased the pressure on the back legs and the sharp edge of the back legs often left dents in the floor. The tilters were meant to prevent this damage.

Patent Model of the Shakers’ Patent for the Tilter Button (replica)

Patent Model of the Shakers’ Patent for the Tilter Button (replica). The original of this patent model is described in Expressions of Eloquence: The Jane Katcher Collection,Volume I. [The replica was made and is on loan from Timothy D. Rieman, co-author with Charles R. Muller, of The Shaker Chair.]

While chairs made for community use were often fitted with tilters, it is not clear whether they were sold with that option before a broadside was printed sometime in the 1850s by the Second Family giving the prices of chairs that included an option for “Button joint Tilts” at a cost of twenty-five cents. The offering of tilters on chairs for sale may have been made possible with the patenting of a metal tilter that could be fabricated separately from the chair-making process and installed on the back posts when the chair was finished. This device was patented (U. S. Patent Office Letters Patent No. 8,771) on March 2, 1852 in the name of “Geo. O. Donnell, of New Lebanon, New York.” George O. Donnell, or more likely O’Donnell, was a Shaker brother at the Second Family at Mount Lebanon, New York. According to census records for 1850, had was 27 years old and worked as a chair-maker. The Letters Patent begin: “Be it known that I, George O. Donnell, of Shaker Village, in the town of New Lebanon, in the county of Columbia and State of New York, have invented a new and improved mode of preventing the wear and tear of carpets and the marring of floors, caused by the corners of the back posts of chairs as they take their natural motion of rocking backward and forward …” At the time of the patent, Brother George was also serving as the second elder in the family as well as working in the chair business. He later left the Shakers. There are two issues that are not completely clear about this patent. First, Brother George’s last name is given in the Shaker records as “O’Donnell.” It is likely that this is his correct name and that for some reason – possibly because of negative feelings toward the huge influx of refugees from the great famine in Ireland in the second half of the 1840s – it was thought better (maybe by the patent attorney or agent) to lose the apostrophe and give him the appearance of having a middle name beginning with the letter “O.” This would not have been uncommon at the time. Second, although the Letters Patent identify Brother George as the inventor, it is possible that his name appeared on the document because of his position in the elders’ order and not because he actually created the metal tilter.

The metal tilter buttons were made in a variety of forms – some, such as a pair on a side chair in the Museum’s collection are made only of pewter, some only of brass, and some of a combination. Some are stamped with the date “1852” and one pair is stamped “Pat. 1852.” It appears that there was a lot of experimenting going on as to the best way to manufacture these new tilters, however, in the end, whichever way was thought best, a relatively small number were actually used on chairs. The survival rate is very low and in the 1870s when the Shakers continued to offer tilter buttons on their production side chairs – they returned to the wood style.

 

 

If I had a crandall hammer….

Crandall Hammer

Crandall Hammer, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1825, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanonr: 1950.1483.1

Sometimes the brutish hard work it took to construct the built environment we have come to admire in Shaker villages can be conveyed in a single object. Such an object is the crandall hammer in Shaker Museum Mount Lebanon’s collection. A crandall is a tool used by stone cutters to give stone a particular look and finish. That finish, a relatively even stippling, was usually achieved with one of two tools, a bush hammer or a crandall. A bush hammer looks something like a meat tenderizer with a face several inches square, cut with a grid of sharp points. The crandall is similar but the hammer head is made from a gathering of individual pointed chisels that are wedged together to make the face of the hammer. The crandall in the museum’s collection is unusual in that the pointed chisels are gathered into a round-shaped head rather than the more usual elongated ax-like head made from stacking the chisels in a line. The museum’s crandall originated at the Church Family at Mount Lebanon and shows all the characteristics of being made by a blacksmith. It’s about twenty-two inches long. It’s face is three-and-one-half inches in diameter and the chisels are about seven inches long. One advantage of a crandall over the bush hammer is that the chisels can be removed, sharpened, and replaced whereas re-cutting the face of a bush hammer is difficult.

Foundation Stones, Second Meetinghouse

Foundation Stones showing stippling, Second Meetinghouse, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY.

There are a number of examples of the Shakers’ use of dressed stone at Mount Lebanon. The most obvious and probably most ambitious one is the marble foundation of the Second Meetinghouse. In 1822 when the Shakers were planning and beginning to prepare materials for the construction of the new meetinghouse, they recorded in a journal, “we were favored with a man qualified to cut and prepare stone, & the foundation was laid of cut stone.” To accomplish this “white stone” (marble) was obtained in Berkshire County and hauled over the mountain by ox team. Once at Mount Lebanon, the stone was sawn into properly sized blocks at the Shakers’ water-powered stone saw. To finish the exterior surface of the stone, it face was worked with a crandall or a bush hammer to give it an even textured appearance. The stippling on each block of marble was framed with a one-inch margin chiseled around its perimeter.

The Second Meetinghouse’s marble foundation rises three feet above the ground and its facing stones cover nearly one-thousand square feet. All of that was hand hammered to achieve the desired finish. An expert on stone cutting could offer an opinion on whether this is crandall or bush hammer work.

 

The Shakers bring fire hydrants to the countryside

Ludlow Fire Hydrant, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY

Ludlow Fire Hydrant, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1875, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon. Staff photograph. This hydrant was position to protect the First and Second Dwellings, the Shakers’ Workshop, and the Wash House. It was the hydrant that supplied power to the Wash House.

A recent blog mentioning the devastating fire of 1875 at the Church Family at Mount Lebanon brought to mind some objects of interest still located at Mount Lebanon’s North Family. In the wake of the fire’s devastation, the North Family made a decision to install four fire hydrants to protect their buildings. In the summer of 1875 they laid five-thousand feet of wooden pipe from a stream running through the East Family downhill to a new reservoir they had dug east and steeply uphill from their dwelling house. The reservoir, two-hundred feet long and fifty feet wide, almost exactly the size of the footprint of their Stone Barn, and sixty feet above the dwelling, was capable of proving sufficient water for fire-fighting. When completed at the end of the summer, the family journal commented that the “Hydrants throw water above all the buildings.”

Ludlow Hydrants from Ludlow Valve Company Catalogue

Ludlow Hydrants from Ludlow Valve Company Catalogue, 1878. Souce: http://www.firehydrant.org/pictures/lv01.html

The hydrants, three of which are still in place, were manufactured by the Ludlow Valve Company in Troy, New York. Ludlow Valve was founded by Henry G. Ludlow in Waterford, New York, in 1866 and began making hydrants soon after. Ludlow, an engineer with a degree from Union College, originally a native of Nassau, New York, ran his company into the 1890s. It was the largest producer of fire hydrants in the country. Although the company officially went out of business in 1969, parts for some Ludlow hydrants are still being manufactured.

There is no record of the North Family ever using the hydrants to fight a fire but in the late 1870s the Shakers extended the piping from the hydrant to their new Wash House to power a ten-horsepower water motor manufactured by the Backus Water Motor Company in Newark, New Jersey. The water motor was initially used to power the wash mill and centrifugal extractor for the laundry, but eventually operated the family’s small grist mill, a mechanical wood splitter, and several other smaller machines. In time, the Shakers added lines to the hydrant pipes to provide power to the Sisters’ Workshop for their sewing machines and in 1891 to the Second Dwelling to operate the equipment for the dairy located in its cellar.

Map of North Family Hydrant Locations and Assumed Piping

Map of North Family Hydrant Locations and Assumed Piping, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, as drawn by A. K. Mosley for the Historic American Buildings Survey, 1939.

The use of pressurized hydrants for fire-fighting goes back to the second decade of the nineteenth century but as obviously useful as they were in urban areas, the use of hydrants in rural settings such as the Shaker Village would have been quite unexpected by visitors to Mount Lebanon. The Church and South Families at Mount Lebanon also added hydrants to their arsenal of fire-fighting equipment at about the same time.

First and Second House, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY

First and Second House, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, Ca. 1880, James Irving, photographer, Troy, NY, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1950.4088.1 This view from the early 1880s shows the hydrant that was meant to protect the Second Dwelling, the Brethren’s Workshop, Forge, and Deacons Workshop. It is the one hydrant that has been removed.

 

 

 

The wonderful world of joinery

Those engaged in the art and mystery of joining pieces of wood together to make a chair, a table, a case of drawers, a cupboard, or any other useful piece of furniture, architectural feature, or household accessory, have a wide choice of “joints” suited to making such things strong and beautiful. Shaker woodworkers, like their counterparts in the outside world, demonstrated their mastery of mortise and tenon, rabbet, half-lap, dovetail, dado, miter, spline, finger, and tongue and groove joints. For a few specific purposes Shaker woodworkers used a particular method of joining pieces of wood that, while not unknown in the outside world, was not common. That method involved turning the common round mortise and tenon joint – that is inserting a round peg in a round hole – into a stronger joint by cutting threads inside the mortise and on the outside of the tenon and screwing them together like iron nuts and bolts. This joint, because it did not require glue, had the advantage of being relatively easy to take apart.

There are three common examples of Shakers using this joinery technique to great advantage – the pulls (or knobs) on drawers and cabinet doors, the omnipresent pegs (or pins) mounted in boards circling the interior of nearly every Shaker room, and window screws.

fig 1

Threaded Drawer Pull from Shaker Blanket Chest, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1830, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1958.10625.1

Pulls. Drawer pulls with glued unthreaded mortises and tenons tend to loosen over the years as wooden drawer fronts expand and contract year to year from summer to winter. The heavier the drawer the more the stress put on the pull every time the drawer is opened. The threaded mortise and tenon is a mechanical joint that relies on the interlocking of the threads rather than glue. Alternatives to threading the pull – used more in non-Shaker pieces – were to either leave the tenon long, protruding into the drawer, and put a pin through it so it could not pull out, or cutting a slot in the tenon and driving a wedge into the slot, flaring the end of the tenon so it was too big to pull out of the hole.

fig 2

Illustration of Shaker Threaded Pegs in Peg Board, 2017, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, drawn by staff

Pegs and Peg Board. Could anything be more annoying to the Shaker than grabbing his or her wrap from the hallway peg board and half-way across the door yard finding the peg on which it hung still tangled in the collar? Threaded pegs, like pulls, did not accidentally come loose from the board. Peg board was made in two parts – one piece of rough wood nailed to the studs that supported the plastered walls and a finished piece of wood that covered the rough board and the joint between that board and the plaster. The rough board had threaded holes to receive the pegs while the finished board had a slightly larger hole through which the peg could pass on its way to the threaded board beneath. In cases where this technique was used, the pegs actually held the finished peg board on the wall. Removing the pegs and peg finished peg board allowed rooms to be painted without having to worry about getting paint or whitewash on the peg boards.

Window Screws. In a number of Shaker buildings the windows were designed such that there was a thin board that overlapped the movable window sash. This board, much like the finished piece of peg board, could be tightened against the sash by turning a thumbscrew that passed through it but tightened into a board beneath. This feature made it possible to hold the sash open without using a stick or counterweights.

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Tap and Die, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1840, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon: 1961.12900.1a,b

Making  wooden threads was done with two tools: a tap for cutting the threads inside the mortise and a die or “screwbox” for cutting the threads on the tenon. These tools would not have been common in every toolbox but specialized woodworkers may have invested in or made these specialized tools. For example, making spinning wheels, which Shakers in a number of communities did, required threaded tensioning screws for keeping the cord that connected the large drive wheel with the spindle where the fiber was twisted tight. Toolmakers made hand screws for clamping pieces of wood together that required long threaded wooden rods and threaded mortises and some woodworkers specialized in making large, one and one-half to three inch diameter wooden screws and nuts for large vises on cabinetmakers’ workbenches.

In the collection of Shaker Museum|Mount Lebanon is a purpose-made tool for threading the tenons on pegs for peg boards that also has a changeable cutter for doing the same for drawer pulls. The tool is thought to have been made at the Church Family at Mount Lebanon by Brother Isaac Newton Youngs, a clever mechanic and woodworker. Faced with the task of making tens-of-thousands of threaded pegs, it seems a worthy project for a clever brother.

There is one example in the Museum’s collection where one unidentified cabinetmaker used the “treaded mortise and tenon joint” in a less common way. Two tripod stands – candlestands – were made with their tops joined to their pedestal bases with wooden screws. Round cleats, screwed to the bottom of the stands’ tops have threaded mortises that screw on threaded tenons protruding from the tops of the stands’ pedestals. The Shaker cabinetmaker was probably thinking of the mechanical strength of the joint and not taking the stand apart for shipping – but it is a design worthy of consideration by Ikea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photography begins as part of $750,000 grant-funded digitization project

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Set-up for collection digitization, March, 2017, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon

In 2016 Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon received a $750,000 grant from The Henry Luce Foundation to create an online digital catalog of its collections. Work has been ongoing entering data about the museum’s object, archive, and library holdings and in March of this year, photography of the collections began. Boston-based photographer John Mulligan spent a week at the Shaker Museum’s Old Chatham campus, and photographed about 300 objects. He will continue this work one week per month over the next year, producing high quality digital images of the collection.

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Oval boxes waiting to be photographed as part of the digitization project at Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, March, 2017.

Planning for photography began in February. Though staff at the museum have long created reference images of objects as part of the process of cataloging, it is not practical (or even, perhaps, desirable) to capture a high quality image of every piece in a collection that numbers over 56,000 objects. Staff had to ask: Which objects should be photographed by the professional, and for which do in-house images suffice? A number of factors come into play.

First the collection must be considered in terms of broad categories defined by both form and function. From these, objects are selected that comprise representative examples of the type. For example, included in the category of case furniture are chests of drawers, blanket chests, cupboards, and tailor counters.  The range of activities associated with hat manufacture are represented by hat and brim molds, bonnet molds, patterns used to cut pieces of woven material into bonnet sections, and samples of woven straw and palm leaf. A survey of hand tools would include a selection of woodworking tools such as planes and cutters, metalworking tools such as punches and casting patterns, and leatherworking tools such as awls and shoe lasts.

Within specific object types, a number of criteria are considered as well. In examining each of the museum’s 75 or so oval boxes, the first group of objects that were photographed, staff asked: what is the significance of this object, or what story can it tell in terms of provenance or association? Special attention is paid to pieces with inscriptions, particularly names, such as the box labeled “Frederick W. Evans 1857” on the lid header. Does the box have particular aesthetic value in its paint color or finish, or type of wood used, when compared to the others? Is it unusually well executed when the cut of the swallowtails, the pattern or placement of the tacks, or the fit of headers to the rims are considered? It’s also important to be sure that as many Shaker communities as possible are represented, so that eventual visitors to the museum’s website can compare boxes made at Mount Lebanon, NY, Canterbury, NH, Sabbathday Lake, ME, and more.

The goals of the photography project are the same as that of the digitization project overall: to provide a powerful research tool for students and specialists of Shaker history; to facilitate access and promote loans and exhibitions of the works and objects; and to ensure that visitors to the website can explore the museum’s rich holdings from anywhere in the world. The project is scheduled to be completed at the end of 2018. Stay tuned to the museum’s blog to keep abreast of new developments.

Writings on the Walls: The Brethren’s Workshop

Brethrens Workshop

The Brethren’s Workshop, or Brick Shop, circa 1920’s. North Family, Mount Lebanon, New York. Photographer: William F. Winter. Source: Historic American Buildings Survey.

The buildings of the North Family are full of clues pointing to past uses by the Shakers, from slots in floors and ceilings for belts that once powered machinery, to the peg boards that still line the walls of many rooms. One of the most widespread and mysterious of clues at the site involves the wealth of writing, recording, and material remnants on the walls of the site’s oldest extant structure, the Brethren’s Workshop, built in 1829.

In 1985-6 Dr. Michael Coe of Yale University and Dr. Ernest Wiegand of Norwalk Community College led the Mount Lebanon Shaker Village Archaeological Project to document, inventory, and assess structures and items found at the North Family historic site. A segment of that project focused on “superficial and subsurface archaeological field investigations at several sites,” which included graffiti found in the Brethren’s Workshop. The report included a catalog of graffiti, with measured drawings, research, and condition reports.

In the summer of 2016, the “Brethren’s Workshop: Writing On the Walls” project was launched to fill in the narrative gaps surrounding the wall remnants through research and new photography. The result was a new graffiti catalog building upon the original, with narrative analysis detailing what these historic remnants tell us about the Brethren’s Workshop and the people who worked and / or lived there. Support for the project came from a Vision Grant from Humanities New York.

The Brethren’s Workshop, or “Brick Shop” as it was called by Shakers, was constructed in 1829, when the corner stone was laid on April 27. From that point through the North Family’s closure in 1947, the workshop was home to Shaker Brothers and Sisters, hired workers and their families, and has been host to carpenters, teenage trespassers, archaeologists, guided tour groups, and exhibitions.

In its earliest days, the Workshop was used as space to do laundry by Sisters, and by Brothers as the center of their broom-making, fruit-selling, and seed businesses, the latter of which eventually grew into a major operation with trade routes in every direction from New York City to the western frontier. Over time, the range of trades plied inside the Workshop expanded to include shoemaking, constructing coffins, cabinetry and other woodwork, printing, carpet beaters (also known as rug whips), poultry, and likely more beyond the recorded history.

Hand print in black ink

Hand print in black ink, found on the third floor’s printing shop room.

In the basement floors, coffins, eggs, fruits, and vegetables were stored, in particular a “nice apple cellar” recorded as built on November 5, 1891. This supported the apple-selling business, whose remnants appear in the basement’s northwest and east spaces. On the first floor, woodworking went on in the carpentry shop. The second floor was used for a variety of purposes, including making carpet beaters and brooms, but the primary work there was the seed business, and seeds were stored, counted, and packaged for sale there. Based on graffiti and interviews with a former hired man who resided in the workshop, chickens may have been kept on the second floor. Finally, the third floor contained the printing and shoemaking shops. Most of the graffiti and markings found in the workshop reflects this layout.

Brother Curtis White with a hired man in the kitchen garden

Brother Curtis White (left) with a hired man in the kitchen garden, circa 1930s. The workshop can be seen in the background.

Shakers were not alone in undertaking all of these different types of work. Especially following the Civil War, the Shakers experienced labor shortages due to loss of (primarily male) members and therefore employed large numbers of hired men, or “hirelings,” in various supplemental roles; in 1893, the North Family journal records 11 male and 31 female resident Shakers.

Hired men were housed both in the upper floors of the nearby Farm Deacon’s Shop, but also in the Brethren’s Workshop itself, including in some cases with their families; Ashly Pratt, a former hired man who was interviewed in 1986, described arriving around 1922, moving into the workshop and joining three other hired hands and families. He described cold, bare conditions, having only cold running water for washing, and a portable chemical toilet. Other hired men’s families included the Face family (one of whom, Elroy, would go on to become a Major League Baseball player and pioneer modern relief pitching), the Gallaghers, and the Griswolds. Also living in the workshop were visitors to the North Family.

Wallpaper remnants

Wallpaper remnants, found on the second floor.

One notable example of a visitor living temporarily with the Shakers is that of Peter Neagoe, a Romanian writer and artist who’d spent a portion of his younger years at the North Family, where he apparently designed marketing material for Shaker products. Later, he and his wife stayed in the workshop several summers intermittently from 1912 through the 1920s, and eventually purchased a home in New Lebanon. It is likely that it was the Neagoes who were responsible for the wallpaper found on the workshop’s second floor, as the Family journal records Neagoe making renovations preparatory for his wife’s arrival.

The story of the Brethren’s Workshop is of the many different people who called it home, Shaker and non-Shaker alike: their lives, their work, and their marks left at the North Family. The building housed generations of Shakers, and later non-Shakers, who worked together to make the North Family operate as an efficient and prosperous economic enterprise. The marks, sketches, designs, and recordings all tell a very clear story about its utilitarian use.

This month, members of the public are seeing the results of the project and exploring these remnants of the past up close and personal. A tour will occur on Saturday, April 22, 2017 at 3PM. You can register for the tour online here. Following both programs, the full report will be made available for download online.

 

“The rooms are all numbered, but not with any Showy sign or label”

The Great House, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY

The Great House, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1871, Shaker Museum|Mount Lebanon, Accession Number: 1960.12583.1. James Irving, Photographer

No single Shaker building provided a physical environment that harmonized more perfectly with the Shakers’ vision of what it meant to live outside the common course of the world than the “Great House” – the Church Family Dwelling – at Mount Lebanon. The architecture, furnishings, personal accessories, and conveniences of daily life were the pinnacle of Shaker design as it reflected the Shakers’ spiritual life. “It is advisable for the center families in each bishopric, to avoid hiring the world to make household furniture…” states Part four, paragraph twenty-eight of the “Millennial Laws,” as revised in 1845, and it can be assumed that as the living quarters of the most central of all families in the most central of all bishoprics, the Great House was carefully furnished with little hint of worldly style and fashion. We will never know for certain, however, because on February 6, 1875, Charles Harris, a disgruntled employee at the family’s medicine shops, burned it all down. Harris set a fire that burned eight buildings at the Church Family and nearly destroyed several others, including the 1824 Meetinghouse. Later in the month he burned down the Herb House as well. As a result, even though the Shakers made every effort to save their belongings, we know of very few objects that can absolutely be associated with the Great House. Harris eventually was convicted of the crime, jailed, and died in prison at his own hands,

Selection of Paper Labels for Marking Objects in the Great House

Selection of Paper Labels for Marking Objects in the Great House, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1833, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1950.376.1

One object in the collection of Shaker Museum|Mount Lebanon related to the Great House is a box of paper labels with numerals and letters printed on them. The box and its contents were made in 1833 by Brother Isaac Newton Youngs (1793-1865). Brother Isaac, a resident of the Great House for all of his adult life, was a fastidious brother with a passion for order. He described how the paper labels were used in a December, 1833, letter to Elder Benjamin Seth Youngs, at South Union, Kentucky: “the rooms are all numbered, but not with any Showy sign or label—then we have large figures printed on paper about an inch in depth for which I made some types on purpose which we paste onto the furniture, chairs, brooms—store things, &c. &c. that belong to the several apartments which helps much to keep things in their place.” A few objects have surfaced over the years with Brother Isaac’s numbers pasted on them, including two books in the Museum’s collection, but most of the items must have burned. The books most likely survived by having been taken elsewhere before the fire. One, a Holy Bible printed by Isaiah Thomas, Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1802 is marked on the cover with the numeral “9,” and a copy of Testimonies Concerning the Character and Ministry of Mother Ann Lee (1827) in a blue paper binding is marked with a numeral “7” label.  It is interesting to note that room “7” was Brother Isaac’s room until he was moved to another room in 1840. The box itself was likely kept in Brother Isaac’s workshop rather than in his retiring room, and thus survived the fire.

vHoly Bible and Testimonies Concerning the Character and Ministry of Mother Ann Lee

Holy Bible (Worcester, 1802) and Testimonies Concerning the Character and Ministry of Mother Ann Lee (Albany, 1827), Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1950.3319.1 (Testimonies) and 1950.3312.1 (Holy Bible). John Mulligan, Photographer

The box itself is neatly made. About the size of a Shaker seed box, it is hand dovetailed with a lid with cleats to keep it from warping. It is divided into thirty-six compartments. On the inside of the lid, Brother Isaac inscribed, “December 10, 1833,” and is signed with his distinctive pencil flourish that includes this initial, “i. n. y.”

Compartmented Box with Numbered Labels

Compartmented Box with Numbered Labels, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1833, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1950.376.1. John Mulligan, Photographer

In a eulogy to Brother Isaac written by Brother Elisha Blakeman in 1866, he describes this very useful Shaker brother: “His mechanical genius was remarkable. In him was combined, The Carpenter, Cabinetmaker, Clock and Watch-maker; which obligation he filled to the last. He many years did the Tayloring, and when needed, could turn Machinist, Mason, or anything that could promote the general good. Very many of our little conveniences which added so much of our domestic happiness owe their origin to B[rother] Isaac…”(1)