Many objects in the Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon collection beg to have their stories told. The photograph of a drawing titled “A Quiet Shaker Game” may very well be one of the most mysterious such objects. The illustration shows three Shaker brothers and two Shaker sisters engaged in a card game in a Shaker retiring room. One brother – probably Brother Walter – has knocked over his chair and spilled his cards as he apparently wins the game exclaims, “Down with the Joker!” A third sister looks in to see what is going on from an adjacent room or hallway while the family elder appears from another room excoriating the group with a forceful, “It’s after 9 o’clock! They can hear you at the South Family!”
The scene is, of course, ridiculous in contrast to what we know of Shaker life. Brothers and sisters did not gather in bedrooms to play cards. That said, there is much in the illustration that indicates that the artist was quite familiar with Shaker life, including details of the architecture and furnishings inside the Shakers’ private spaces. The ever-present pin board surrounding the room has appropriate items hanging there– hats, bonnets, and brushes. The clothing and brothers’ haircuts are appropriate to the assumed period of the illustration and the inclusion of the chamber pot under the bed and a broom leaning against the wall show a familiarity with Shaker spaces. The location of the game at Mount Lebanon is also not divulged in the illustration except to be clear that it was some distance from the South Family.
There is so much more that is not known. The original illustration has not surfaced and the photograph may have been made long after the illustration was created. What is known, in addition to the mere “reading” of the illustration, is that the photograph was a gift to Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon in 1966 by Albert H. Clough (1902-1988) of Lebanon Center, New York. Albert, who is best remembered locally as having served as a New York State Trooper from 1927 until 1952, was the son of Henry Terry Clough (1862-1923) and Julia Mintie (Minta) Dalton Clough (1872-1959). Henry and Julia were Shakers who, although raised as Shakers from their early days, determined in 1890 to leave their Shaker home at Mount Lebanon, marry, and make their way in the outside world. They moved to New York City where Henry successfully established himself in the jewelry business. They eventually had five children and in 1909 returned to live, as a married couple, in a residence provided by the Shakers at Mount Lebanon. Henry’s business skills were put to use as the manager of the Shakers’ medicine business. Henry was an amateur photographer and a number of his photographs of Mount Lebanon as well as his collection of images of Mount Lebanon by other photographers, were donated to Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon by his wife. It seems highly likely that Henry was the one who took the photograph of the illustration of the quiet Shaker game, and although it will probably never be known, could have been the artist as well. As Brother Henry, Clough would have had intimate knowledge of the interior of Shaker spaces and as a dissatisfied brother, may have had a desire to poke some fun at those whom he was about to desert.