Wayside pulpits for the wayward traveler

fig 1..wayside pulpit, vince pecoraro, photographer

“Wayside Pulpit,” Second Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1928, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 2008.10.47. Photograph by Vince Pecoraro for the Chatham Courier at the exhibition The Shakers: America’s Quiet Revolutionaries, New York State Museum, Albany, NY, 2015.

In 1919 the Unitarian Minister Henry Saunderson of First Parish Church, Brighton, Massachusetts, noting that bulletin boards placed in front of churches were underused, decided to write short, pointed “wayside sermons” to induce people to stop, read, and search their consciences. After posting his first few sermons and noting the great number of people who did stop and read, he enlisted a number of local ministers to subscribe to his sermons and agree to post them on their bulletin boards. To make this work, the subscribers built “Wayside Community Pulpits” of a size that would accommodate messages printed on a 32 x 44 inch sheet of paper. The movement grew quickly, reaching Reverend H. Harrold Johnson in Manchester, England the following year. Johnson and his subscribers posted hand-painted 40 x 30 inch messages every Sunday morning for the next fifty years.

fig 2..second family dwelling with wayside pulpit, acc. no. 1989.03.01

Winter, William F., “Dwelling- Second Family 1930,” Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1989.03.01.

In the winter of 1928 Brother William H. Perkins and Sister Lillian I. Barlow made a Wayside Pulpit to place outside of the Second Family Dwelling House at Mount Lebanon. The new Pulpit was photographed in the summer of 1930 by William F. Winter as he documented the Lebanon Shakers for the New York State Museum. Perkins was born in Manchester, England in 1861 and immigrated to the United States specifically to join the Shakers, arriving at the North Family in June of 1914. He soon asked to transfer to the Second Family and there he and Sister Lillian Barlow constituted the Mount Lebanon Woodworking Company. Brother William was a trained carpenter and wood carver when he came to the Shakers and seemed naturally drawn to practice that trade. Sister Lillian was born in Mississippi in 1876, came to the Shakers as a girl, and spent most of her Shaker life at the Second Family. When the Second Family was sold in 1940, she moved to the North Family for her remaining years.

In removing the paper pulpit message for conservation work prior to exhibiting it in The Shakers: America’s Quiet Revolutionaries at the New York State Museum, an inscription was discovered on the board to which the pulpit message is mounted. It reads: “Made December 1 to 7 1928 W. H. Perkins   L. I. Barlow.”

fig 3..wayside pulpit with inscription

“Wayside Pulpit,” (inscription on back of the mounting board), Second Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1928, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon 2008.10.47.

It is interesting to theorize about how the Second Family Shakers decided to erect a Wayside Pulpit. Noting that Perkins was born in Manchester, England, it seems possible that, although he came to the Shakers five years prior to the erection of the first Pulpit in Manchester, he may have known about Johnson’s movement from friends or relatives. The choice to make the Shakers’ Wayside Pulpit according to the dimensions specified by Johnson rather than those of the American Saunderson and the fact that the one existing Shaker pulpit message is hand-painted rather than printed, suggests that the Shakers subscribed to receive their sermons each week from the English movement rather than the American.

In William F. Winter’s 1930 photograph of the Second Family Dwelling, a second sign is mounted along the road that reads “Remember ‘Mother Ann’ Second Family Shakers Hands to Work – Hearts to God.” At this time it is not known who made the sign or when, or when it was mounted between the two trees, but it is likely that it is also the work of Brother William and Sister Lillian. Both signs are in the collection of the Shaker Museum|Mount Lebanon.

fig 7..1962.13778.1

Sign, “Remember ‘Mother Ann’ Second Family Shakers ‘Hands to Work – Hearts to God,’” Second Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon 1962.13778.1


No such thing as too many irons on the fire: Shaker stoves

fig 1

Ironing Stove, South Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1840. Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1950.749.1.

Shakers generally designed their own stoves. Once a design was completed, a cabinetmaker made a wooden pattern. The pattern was taken to a foundry where one or more stoves were cast in iron. When the castings were retrieved Shaker blacksmiths and mechanics would do the finishing work – making door latches and hinges and sealing the pieces to make the stove airtight.

fig 2

Photograph, Ironing Stove with Doors Open, Ironing Room, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, William F. Winter, Photographer, ca. 1930. Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon 1962.14115.1.

This stove was designed by the Shakers specifically for heating irons in their laundry. Sad irons, smoothing irons, flat irons, polishing irons, sleeve irons, collar irons, and tailors’ gooses  – whatever they are called and however they are used – all have two things in common: they are heavy and must be re-heated often. The ironing stove has ledges cast into its sides that hold the back end of an iron so the flat part of the iron rests against the side of the hot stove. Two raised rails along the sides of the top are intended to hold larger irons – tailor’s gooses or sleeve irons – slightly above the top of the stove.  The stove is long enough to hold two dozen irons. Irons needed to be exchanged frequently to keep them hot enough to be useful. Unlike blacksmithing, you probably cannot have “too many irons in the fire.” Exchanging hot for cool irons was often the work of young Shaker girls, who quickly learned how to use a pad to hold the hot handle and how to put the hot iron down on a trivet to keep from scorching the cloth on which ironing was being done.

This ironing stove in the Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon collection was acquired by founder John S. Williams, Sr., from the South Family Shakers prior to 1946, when the property was purchased by Jerome and Sybil Count as the home for their Shaker Village Work Camp. This stove is un-cased, meaning there was no way of shielding the ironing crew from the heat of the stove in the summer. In Shakerism: Its Meaning and Message, Shaker authors White and Taylor tell of Brother George Wickersham’s invention of a summer covering – a casing – for Mount Lebanon’s Church Family’s ironing stove. The casing captured the heat radiating from the stove and vented it out of the room through a pipe that surrounded the regular stove pipe, keeping the ironing room cooler.


fig 5

Photograph (detail) , Ironing Stove, “Magnetic Lotus,” Wash House, North Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, William F. Winter, Photographer, ca. 1930. Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon 1962.14094.1.

Fortunately, the ironing room in the 1879 wash house renovation at the North Family at Mount Lebanon had very high ceilings to help keep the room cooler since the Shakers did not select a cased stove for the room. They purchased an ironing stove called the “Magnetic Lotus” that was not cased but did have a water tank above the fire chamber. The water chamber kept irons placed at a temperature that was more consistent than for irons placed directly against the firebox. In fitting out their new wash house ironing room the Shaker purchased laundry equipment from the Troy Washing Machine Company, in nearby, Troy, NY. That company did offer a cased stove in their 1892 catalogue but there is no evidence the Shakers purchased one.

The South Family ironing stove is on view with other artifacts of Shaker laundry at Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon through October 10,2016 in the summer exhibition Wash: There is no dirt in heaven.

The restoration of a case piece

case of drawers union villlage smml (lees studio 1964).jpgThe Shaker Museum acquired this Union Village, Ohio case of drawers in 1964–a gift from the Museum’s founder, John S. Williams, Sr. It is unclear where Mr. Williams purchased the piece. He may have bought it while on a trip to the western Shaker communities to acquire pieces to help the museum better represent the work of Shaker craftsmen in Ohio and Kentucky or, just as likely, he purchased it at or around Canterbury, New Hampshire, where a large quantity of Union Village furniture was moved when that village closed in 1911. However it came to the Shaker Museum, it was a piece that was never prominently exhibited because at some point it had lost its original feet and sat awkwardly on the floor, as seen to the left. The case of drawers once stood proudly elevated off the floor with minimal but eye-catching decorative feet. This was known this from a small remnant left on the piece and by studying a companion piece that remained intact in the collection of the Duxbury Art Complex in Duxbury, Massachusetts.
case of drawers union village noc1964.14616.1 (kroening)

Companion case of drawers at the Duxbury Art Complex.

In 2009, the Museum asked our curatorial assistant, accomplished cabinetmaker Boyd Hutchison, if he would fabricate a new base for the piece modeled on the base of the one at Duxbury,  with adjustments accurately reflecting the remaining elements. The old base was documented, removed, and stored with the case of drawers. It was loose and apparently had been removed before. The new base was constructed as an independent piece so the case can be set securely in the base without any fasteners and can be easily restored to its condition at the time of acquisition. It is like having a new piece in the collection–one that we could move to the forefront of any exhibition and feel we were presenting an accurate representation of the Shaker craftsman’s original intent and design.


case of drawers union village from duxbury art complex

Case of drawers as it appears with its new base.

Revisiting the 1905 Peace Convention through postcards

On August 31, 1905, the Shakers at Mount Lebanon hosted an international peace convention in their Meetinghouse. For many years the Shakers had been involved in various peace movements in New England, especially the annual gathering supported by the Universal Peace Union at Salt Point, New York.

The 1905 meeting focused on three major points: First – Arbitration over Armed Conflict; Second – Reduction in Armaments to Reduce the Financial Burden on the Working Classes; and Third – Securing Waterways of Commerce as Neutral Zones. Among the speakers were religious leaders, legal minds, members of the Fourth Estate, and, representing the Shakers, Eldress Anna White of the North Family. The convention coincidentally occurred just at the end of the Russo-Japanese War, which gave those in attendance ample opportunity to praise President Theodore Roosevelt for his work to end that war. A telegram of appreciation was sent to the president from the delegates.

peace convention 2

“Interior, Convention Hall, Mt. Lebanon, N. Y.” postcard, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1905-6. 1981.19420.1

The Shakers’ convention is well documented by newspaper articles, broadsides, and a few postcards. The best known image of the convention is of the afternoon session in the sanctuary of the Meetinghouse. It is titled, Interior, Convention Hall, Mt. Lebanon, N. Y. Another image shows carriages assembled in front of the Meetinghouse with people milling around either waiting to enter or having just exited the building. It is titled During Peace Convention, Mt. Lebanon, N. Y.

peace convention 1

“During Peace Convention, Mt. Lebanon, N. Y.” postcard, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1905-6. 1981.19404.1

The Museum recently acquired a third postcard produced at the time of the peace convention. This card lacks a caption but clearly shows the interior of the Meetinghouse during the convention.

peace convention 3

[Interior, Convention Hall, Mt. Lebanon, N. Y.] postcard, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1905-6. 2016.24191.1

Why was this third image not captioned? Examining the back side of the two captioned postcards it appears were probably printed at the same time. The backs of the three cards are not divided in half as are modern postcards. Until 1907 the U. S. Postal Service allowed only the recipient’s address to be written on the back of a card; messages were scrawled on the front, in white space left by the photographer or over the image. After 1907, postcard backs were divided – the address written on the right side of the back with the left side available for a message. The backs of all three postcards have stamp blocks in their upper right-hand corners indicating the amount of postage required and where to place the stamp. The two captioned postcards have a stamp block with a depiction of a sailing ship while the third postcard has a stamp block showing a hand with an “X” on it. Blank postcards would probably have been purchased in bulk by photographers, so it is likely the uncaptioned postcard was produced at a different time than the two more commonly seen captioned cards.

The Shakers themselves vetted the images that were going to be printed as postcards, and it’s possible that since the captioned image shows only a few empty seats in the sanctuary and the uncaptioned card shows many more, the Shakers opted for the image that made the convention appear better attended. The photographer may have hated to waste a perfectly good image, and later decided there was some money to be made by printing the uncaptioned image.

Although the photographer is not identified for certain, it is possible these images were created by James E. West, an itinerant photographer living in Hoosick Falls, New York. West took photographs at both the North and Church Families at Mount Lebanon in the early 1900s and would likely have known about the opportunity to photograph the convention or even have been asked to do so.

peace convention 4

[Interior, Convention Hall, Mt. Lebanon, N. Y.] postcard, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1905-6. 2016.24191.1

The photographer would have had time throughout the day to take more images, and there are two other photographs that were turned into postcards that were possibly created on the same day. The first of these shows a crowd arriving or departing the Meetinghouse. This time both horse-drawn vehicles and automobiles are included in the photograph. The cars seem to be carefully parked so as to not be too close to the horses – after all, it was a period when the two modes of transport were learning to coexist. The second of these postcards appears to be the glamour shot. It shows the back side of the Meetinghouse and the drive sheds used for the Lebanon Ministry’s vehicles and those of visiting ministry members, reflected in the Tannery Mill Pond. Whether these last two photographs were created during the Peace Convention is not known, but they certainly date to a time very close to that event and were taken in the same area the convention was being held. Because of these five images, viewers today have a fine sense of the place and time of the Peace Convention.

peace convention 5

[Meetinghouse Drive Sheds and Tannery Pond, Mt. Lebanon, N. Y.] postcard, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1905-6. 2013.23578.1

The mysterious basket and its lining

fig 1

Basket, Canterbury or Enfield, NH, ca. 1835. Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon 1950.4164.1.

Ascertaining the original use of a particular basket is difficult. In the absence of historical documentation museums often use terms such as utility basket, carrying basket, work basket, and fruit basket. Sometimes the use is more specifically identified – apple basket, chip basket, or laundry basket. The function of the basket shown here is hard to define. Its size–an interior volume close to eleven and a half cubic feet–suggests it was a work basket or utility basket used to carry or store a large quantity of something. Its lining suggests either that whatever was put in it (e.g. wool) should not be allowed to catch on the rough strips of the uprights or weavers, or something small, such as grain, that might otherwise leak through the holes in the basket. But, even the lightest wheat bran weighs twenty pounds per cubic foot and would make the full basket weigh nearly 250 pounds.

When Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon’s founder John Williams acquired the basket in mid-November, 1950, the Shakers at Canterbury, New Hampshire, may have been perfectly correct when they asserted the basket was used for “holding herbs and flower petals.”

One of the more interesting features of the basket, other than its size, is its lining. The bottom and lower sides of the basket are lined with a black oilcloth-like material. The upper sides are lined with cloth painted a yellow ochre color. The black cloth has a stenciled design applied over the black paint that seems at first unusual for the normally austere Shakers. An following article from the New England Farmer, and Gardener’s Journal for June 29, 1836, however, may shed light on this lining material:

“Table Covers.—The Shakers of Lebanon, N. H. are engaged in the manufacture of an article for table covers which resembles oil-cloth, but has many advantages over it, inasmuch as it is perfectly pliable, and will double as readily as linen cloth. It is made of common sheeting, painted with gum elastic and other ingredients, in a very tasteful manner, with borders of garlands, wreaths and vines, presenting an unique and very handsome appearance.” (“Table Covers,” New England Farmer, and Gardener’s Journal  14 (June 29, 1836): p. 402.)

Although this basket was acquired from the Canterbury Shakers, it’s possible it had its beginnings with the Enfield Shakers near Lebanon, New Hampshire, as many Enfield items were brought to Canterbury when Enfield was closed in 1923. If the lining material for the basket – at least the black decorated pieces – are pieces of the Shakers’ table covers, it is possible that they were either unsalable for some reason or were just not sold and found a new use in the bottom of a basket. And if they are, in fact, part of the Shaker table cover business, they are a significant, if not unique, remnant of that business.

Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon is grateful to the Eugene V. and Clare Thaw Charitable Trust for their recent support for a project to photograph and catalog the basket collection.

Basket, Canterbury or Enfield, NH, ca. 1835. Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon 1950.4164.1.