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 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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To mark or not to mark, that is the question

Last week’s post discussed the Shakers and their rules about signing an individual’s work. When the issue of Shakers signing their work is raised, it is often accompanied by a quotation from the “Millennial Laws or Gospel Statutes and Ordinances Adapted to the day of Christ’s Second Appearing,” as they were revised in October, 1845. Section twelve, “Concerning Marking Tools and Conveniences,” article four, states, “No one should write or print his name on any article of manufacture, that others may hereafter know the work of his hands.” This rule has usually been interpreted to mean that Shakers were not allowed to sign anything they made. Let’s consider, however, what that rule means if we interpret, “articles of manufacture” to mean items made for sale to the outside world rather than objects made to be used in the community. It is known that many products made for sale were marked with the initials of the office deacons responsible for conducting business with the outside world and later the names “Shakers” or “United Society” with a community of origin were used to mark Shaker work.

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Die Stamp, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1800, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1950.1683.1

The object pictured here, a die stamp, cut to mark the initials “D. M.,” was used at Mount Lebanon to mark various Shaker products sold to the outside world. Spinning wheels, reels, tubs, pails, hand cards, and dippers with these initials identified them as the work of the Shakers. This stamp contains the initials of Deacon David Meacham, Sr. (1744-1826), the office deacon at the time the stamp was first used. Other communities followed this example using their deacon’s initials on some products they sold. The initials “F. W.,” (Deacon Francis Winkley) marked spinning wheels, cooperware, and seed packages sold by the Canterbury, NH, Shakers; ‘’D. G.,” (Deacon Daniel Goodrich) appears on bent-wood measures and hand cards made at Hancock, MA, and “J. H.” (Deacon John Holmes) is found stamped into spinning wheels made at Sabbathday Lake, ME. By mid-century the name “Shaker” appeared more commonly on Shaker products. After the Civil War, the full names of deacons began to appear on Shaker products. Deacon Levi Shaw’s name appeared on rug whips made at Mount Lebanon’s North Family and Deacon Dewitt Clinton Brainard’s name appeared on a variety of products produced at Mount Lebanon.

It is not known if this is this “D. M.” stamp was the only die used to mark products at Mount Lebanon or if there were several of these in use. Robert F. W. Meader, a past director of the Shaker Museum, once said he had seen a reference in a Shaker journal to the serif on the “M” on the die having been accidentally broken off. Some stamps found on Shaker objects have the serif – some do not. The die appears to have been hand forged and lacking any mark indicating who made the die, it is not know if it was made by the Shakers or by a die cutter in the world.

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“D. M.” Printed with Die Stamp on Face of Clock Reel, ca. 1830s, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1953.6440.1. The person who used the die stamp to mark the face of this clock reel used it with ink or paint as one would printer’s type rather than as a stamp to incise a the mark.

As for things made by Shakers intended to remain in their own homes and workshops, it should be understood that while anonymity was required for products made for the world, Shakers were not anonymous within their own families and communities. It was certainly not necessary to know who made what for the family, but people did – it was no secret. If someone wanted to know who made the case of drawers in their retiring room it’s likely someone would remember, and probably approximately when it was made. A tremendous amount of information about the built environment must have been retained in the minds of the 50 to 100 members of each Shaker family. In the midst of this kind of shared knowledge the act of putting one’s name on something they made made little difference – most family members would know who made it anyway. Why some cabinetmakers such as Brother Orren N. Haskins signed a number of things he made and others such as Brother David Rowley did not, had less to do with “Gospel Statutes and Ordinances” than it did with individual psyches. In nearly every case when a piece of furniture is found signed by its maker – the signature is on the bottom or back of a drawer or on the back of the piece rather than where it is easily seen.

The Millennial Laws cited above also includes in section twelve an article stating, “It is not allowable for the brethren to stamp, write or mark their own names, upon any thing which they make for the sisters,” or vice versa. While the logic of forbidding behavior that might be intended to curry special favors or affection from a member of the opposite sex seems perfectly reasonable in a celibate community, it is possible read into this rule permission to put one’s name on things made for the family in general or things made for personal use. A third article in the same section says, “The initials of a person’s name are sufficient mark to put upon any tool, or garment, for the purpose of distinction.” In this statute the Shakers are discouraging unnecessary work and the opportunity for unnecessary embellishment in how one marks things. Clothing, linens, woodworking planes, and garden tools are examples of things that may need to be identified as to the person who used it. The collection at Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon strongly reflects an adherence to this statute in the markings found on tools and textiles.

Whether the above is perfectly accurate or not in its argument concerning marks of manufacture and ownership, it is at least our desire to encourage a broadening of the discussion of those rules and sayings that are so often quoted to show that Shaker always or always did not do something.

 

 

Jas. X. Smith

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Jas. X. Smith’s Stamp in Wood, ca. 1950, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon.

Die stamps were standard tools used by cabinetmakers to mark their tools, especially when they worked in a workshop where their tools might become mixed up with those of other workers. This set of stamps was used by James X. Smith to make his mark “Jas. X. Smith” and “New-Lebanon” on his cabinetmaking planes and other tools. While it is common to find initials stamped into the ends of woodworkers’ hand planes and occasionally a full last name, it is less common to find the owner’s whole name and place of residence marked. Brother James X. Smith was a member of the Shaker community at Mount Lebanon, New York. Born in 1806 in Norwich, New York, his father, also James had unsuccessfully tried to become a Shaker at New Lebanon in the 18th century. Failing this, he dedicated himself to the work of farming and met with considerable success. He married and had eight children, including James X. Smith. Although comfortably rewarded by his labor, he never found spiritual peace. In a complex series of steps having to do with his earlier experience with the Shakers and with his duty to his wife and family, James Sr. and most of his family united with the Shakers at New Lebanon in 1816. By 1843 Brother James X. Smith was serving as the assistant elder at the Second Family. In 1858 he was moved to the Center Family where he worked in the herb business. Two years later he was appointed the Elder at the East Family, but due to poor health was sent to the Church Family where he led a productive life until he died in the faith in 1888.

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Die Stamps made by Benjamin C. True, Albany, NY for Brother James X. Smith, New Lebanon, NY, 1830s, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1950.1403, 1950.1404

The stamps Brother James used were made by and purchased from die-cutter Benjamin C. True of Albany, NY, and marked “B. C. True, Albany.” True was active in the 1830s with a shop on Beaver Street. The process of making dies was challenging—carving very small letters into iron that is hard enough to be driven repeatedly into hard wood without damaging the die. The process involves forging the general shape of the die at the blacksmith’s forge, then annealing or softening the iron by heating it to the temperature at which it is no longer attracted to a magnet – somewhere around 1600 degrees Fahrenheit – and then letting it cool very slowly. Done properly, the iron will be soft enough to be worked with small chisels, files, drills, and engravers’ tools. The die-maker works with letters in reverse so they will make a right-reading mark. Once the die is cut, it is hardened by bringing it evenly back to around 1600 degrees Fahrenheit and quenching, that is, quickly cooling the iron. Done properly the die will withstand repeated use.

Earlier this week Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon sponsored a tour of the current Shaker exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Simple Gifts: Shaker at the Met,” on view through June 25,2017. The exhibition, curated by Alyce Englund, Assistant Curator of American Decorative Arts, features Shaker pieces once owned by pioneer collectors and scholars of Shaker history, Edward and Faith Andrews, along with other Shaker items from the Met’s collection; examples of American furniture contemporary with Shaker pieces; and modern pieces inspired by the Shakers, including a 1958 screening of Martha Graham’s Appalachian Spring ballet. The Museum’s Director of Collections and Research, Jerry Grant, was invited to join Englund in discussion of the objects in the exhibition.

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Work Stand, Made by Brother James X. Smith, Second Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1843, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, photograph by Paul Rocheleau.

One of the extraordinary pieces in the exhibition is a six-drawer work table from Mount Lebanon made in 1843 by Brother James X. Smith while he lived at the Second Family. Brother James used the set of dies to stamp “Jas. X. Smith New-Lebanon N. Y.” across the dovetails of one of the piece’s drawers. The work table is unusual in that it is of panel-and-frame construction at a time when Shakers would usually have made such a piece with wide pine boards to make the sides. The front legs and the boards between the drawers are framed with beading. Brother James edged with top with a strip of wood to keep things from rolling off and marked the front strip to be a 32 inch measuring stick. In anticipation of discussing this piece, Grant brought photographs of Brother James’ stamps for Englund. The Met was unaware of the existence of these stamps and the knowledge of them enhances the story of this particular piece of Shaker furniture.

 

Popcorn ball press

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Fig 1: Popcorn Ball Press and Accessories, Church Family, Canterbury, NH, Ca. 1885, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1953.6589.1 (press) and 1953.6590.1-.3 (cylinders)

Shaping popcorn into balls when it is covered in hot sugar syrup or molasses is hard on the hands, especially in quantity. This popcorn ball press relieved that discomfort and made consistently sized balls.

Using the press was pretty simple – the metal cylinders were filled with sticky popcorn and then placed on the base of the press. The arm was pushed down until the two recesses met, trapping a perfectly round ball between them. The finished popcorn balls were then either served or wrapped in cellophane or waxed paper to be eaten or sold later. Though there’s no documentation of the Shakers selling popcorn balls, the three accompanying metal cylinders suggest a vigorous production.

The Museum’s 1953 accession records for the popcorn ball press provide two significant pieces of information: That the press was made by Canterbury Brother Alexander Cochran (sometimes Cochrane), and that it was used for making “molasses popcorn balls.” Brother Alexander Y. Cochran was born May 14, 1848. Much of Brother Alexander’s life story eludes us, but we know he was the natural brother of Eldress Dorothea T. Cochran at Canterbury. Eldress Dorothea was born in 1844 in Duntalker, Scotland. While the 1860 census gives Alexander’s birthplace as Massachusetts, it is likely his parents came to this country between 1844 and 1848. Brother Alexander was second elder in the Canterbury Church Family and worked closely with Ministry Elder Henry Blinn on managing correspondence and financial matters pertaining to the publication of the Manifesto up until May, 1890, when he decided to leave the Shakers. Little more is known about his post-Shaker life, except that an Alexander Y. Cochrane of Waverly, Massachusetts, was granted patent 584,922 on July 22, 1897 for an improvement in a “yielding wire seat frame” and that he was, in 1920, married to Louise F. Cochrane. Among Eldress Dorothy’s vital statistics it is recorded that she had a brother living in Waverly, Massachusetts, so it’s likely this is the same Alexander Cochran. We don’t know whether the popcorn ball press was a harbinger of Brother Alexander’s inventive nature, but his departure from the Shakers in 1890 does provide a date before which the press was made and used.

There are two scenarios for the Canterbury Shakers popcorn ball adventures  – one, that they made traditional blackstrap molasses popcorn balls and the second, that molasses, in this case, refers to maple molasses. Any readers with special knowledge of the history of popcorn balls in New England are encouraged to weigh in.

Maple Molasses: About two miles from the Shaker Village at Canterbury, the Shakers had an 800-tree sugar bush that they tapped for over a half a century. The trees produced over 50 barrels of sap per day during sugaring season and the sugar house workers could turn that into 50 gallons of syrup or 350 pounds of maple sugar. The Canterbury sisters made a variety of maple candies to sell from the sugar and it is reasonable to think that maple molasses popcorn balls may have been among their offerings for sale. A simple recipe for maple molasses popcorn balls can be found at here.

Blackstrap Molasses: In the 1880s the cane sugar and molasses jockeyed for position as the more expensive sweetener. Cane sugar had historically been the more expensive of the two, but as improvements in processing sugar cane were made it eventually became quite inexpensive and a premium emerged for those who preferred the taste of blackstrap molasses. If you have not tasted molasses popcorn, think Cracker Jacks, America’s first “The More You Eat the More You Want” junk food. Its flavor is an acquired taste (and today’s corn syrup Cracker Jacks do not do the original justice), but apparently once a devotee, it was greatly preferred by some in some foods – popcorn balls being one of them. There are a number of recipes available for making molasses popcorn balls. One five-star recipe for “bare-bones popcorn balls” that uses just popped corn, molasses, and refined sugar can be found here. The final step in this recipe is to “eat whatever sticks to your fingers.”  Bon appetit!

 

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Molasses Popcorn Balls from Tori Avey: Tori’s Kitchen website.

 

A box in search of its rastrum

Edward Langford came to live at the Church Family at Mount Lebanon at age 11, but eloped in 1892 with Inez Platt, a 20-year old sister who lived at the Second Family.

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Case for Music Staff Pen, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, 1829, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1960.11613.1

Almost 70 years later, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon received from relatives of the Langfords a small box, which at the time of the gift held a single ivory toothpick. The bottom of the box is made of a single piece of wood, hollowed out to create the cavity that held the toothpick. The cavity is only one-quarter inch wide at one end but widens abruptly, one and one-half inches from the other end to just over one-half inch. It took a number of years and the appearance of other such boxes to understand that it was not made to hold a toothpick but rather was the case for a Shaker rastrum. Rastrums are pens with multiple points used to scribe lined staffs for music manuscripts. The Shakers wrote down thousands of their unique songs, hymns, and anthems using a music system in which the letters “a” through “g,” instead of the now-common round notes, were written on a standard four or five line staff. This box once held one of these pens. The bottom of the cavity is lined with a brilliant yellow paper and at the wide end of the paper it is possible to see five small evenly-spaced dots where the five tips of the pen came to rest when place in its case.

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Music Staff Pen and Case, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1820s, Private Collection.

Several of these pens have letterpress printed instructions pasted either on the outside of the case or inside the cavity, as shown here in an example from a private collection. “This pen may be used either side up: – but if it will not make good lines without bearing on too hard, it needs some repair.” This instruction is followed by the initials “I. N. Y.” Brother Isaac Newton Youngs (1793-1865) lived at the Church Family at Mount Lebanon from 1807 until his death. Brother Isaac is described by a Shaker brother and friend in a eulogy, “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 Tailoring, and when needed, could turn Machinest, Mason, or anything that could promote the general good. Very many of our little conveniences which added so much to our domestic happiness owe their origin to Brother Isaac…” Much of Brother Isaac’s success in making those conveniences (and much of what, at times, made him challenging for others) was his commitment to perfection and precision.

Brother Isaac was also, for many years, the family scribe – keeping the daily family journal, spiritual records, and correspondence. He had a passionate interest in music and made special efforts to standardize Shaker singing. Shakers did not use musical instruments to keep them on pitch during Brother Isaac’s lifetime. To keep the Shakers “in union” so they would all sing the same music in the same way, he likely developed two instruments – one, a toneometer, used to set the pitch, and a modeometer, used to set the speed. In 1843 he printed a small book of music instruction to help others understand these concepts and to teach the Shaker system of letter-notation.

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Music Staff Pen, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1835, Private Collection. Purchased at Willis Henry Auction 2013, Lot 77.

The five-pointed music pen – a tool he would have found most useful in recording hundreds, if not thousands, of Shaker songs – seems a natural outgrowth of his precise mechanical nature, his obligation to record keeping, and his interest in music. Brother Isaac was also skilled in making the pens from coin silver sold by Shakers at Mount Lebanon and Watervliet. Another example from a private collection is shown above.

While the pen itself remains missing, its case provides more about its history. On the outside of the case is written, “Sarah Bates Nov. 29th 1829.” Sister Sarah Bates was also a resident at the Church Family. She and Brother Isaac were nearly the same age. She was born November 29, 1792; Isaac was born July 4, 1793. Both first lived at the Shakers’ Watervliet community, Isaac beginning his life at the Church Family at Mount Lebanon in 1807 and Sister Sarah coming there in 1811. Sister Sarah Bates was a school teacher, likely a scribe for the family, and is known to have written several songs. It seem perfectly reasonable that Brother Isaac made a music pen and its case for Sister Sarah and the fact that it is dated on her thirty-seventh birthday suggests it was a very useful gift. It’s not known how Edward Langford or his descendants came into possession of the box.

More than a half-dozen of Brother Isaac’s music pens survive in private and public collections. There is always some hope that someday a Shaker rastrum, if not THE Shaker rostrum that once filled this case, might complete this story for Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon.

Ouch! Careful with that fork.

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Garden Fork, North Family, Mount Lebanon, New York, ca. 1870, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 1950.3201.1. Photograph by Matthew Kroening.

In 1948, several months after the Shakers left their Mount Lebanon home and moved in with the Hancock Shakers but before they sold off their property, Phelps Clawson, the first curator of Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon founder John S. Williams’s Shaker collection, found this garden fork in the foundation of a ruined building at the North Family. The building in which he found the fork was most likely, and appropriately, the Farmers’ Tool House that stood from 1860 to 1948 between the west end of the 1859 Great Stone Barn and the 1853 Wagon Shed (called the Garden House by the Shakers). The fork, with a small break in the handle just above the tines, may have been left behind as no longer useful. Break or no break, the fork does have the name “F.W. Evans” branded into its handle, making it a treasure to this institution.

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Elder Frederick William Evans, North Family, Mount Lebanon, New York, ca. 1878, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 2013.23524.1. W. G. C. Kimball, photographer.

Frederick William Evans (1808-1893) was the North Family elder from 1858 until his death. He very well may have been the most widely know Shaker ever – mostly through his writings, public sermons and lectures, and as the head of the North Family. This family was the “gathering or novitiate” order at Mount Lebanon, the Shakers’ largest community. As the novitiate family, it was the primary conduit between the Shaker and non-Shaker world. Members of the press, photographers, foreign dignitaries, and the masses of curious travelers on the road would be directed to the North Family for information about Shaker life and belief. Evans would often be the person with whom they spoke. Elder Frederick was well known in his Shaker world as a farmer – journals often place him in gardens and orchards, experimenting with improvements to maximize yield and defend against natural threats to the family food supply. He was particularly interested in composting and natural fertilizers and the introduction of the use of ensilage to feed the family’s stock. It was probably Elder Frederick who designed the Great Stone Barn, and who controversially tried to turn the North Family into the kind of English gentleman’s farm on which he had spent his youth.

Elder Frederick’s garden fork was probably commercially made. Although its tines are evidently hand forged, the cast iron collar into which the tines are wedged suggests a mass produced tool. Clearly it is from the era when mass production and the evident hand of the craftsman were still enjoying a healthy relationship. The fork demanded careful use: the tines are sharp and made to pierce the soil. On April 23, 1884, the North Family journal records that “Frederick Evans run fork through his leg, on the Asparagrass [sic] bed.” The injury was probably not severe. There is no account of his being laid up in the sick room, or having to be doctored, or being kept from his work – but pierced he was. Without DNA evidence, we, of course can only reasonably assume that it was this same fork that turned on its user.

Another garden tool, a spade, bears the same brand, “F. W. Evans,” as the garden fork and shares some similarity in its manufacture. This spade was sold in 1982 by Willis Henry Auction, Inc. At that time it was offered by a seller who wished to remain anonymous, but now we know it to have been sold by James H. Bissland. Bissland had become particularly close to the Shakers at the North Family at Mount Lebanon and as recounted by his son, “About every time we visited the residents at Mount Lebanon … they did have something for us – oval boxes, baskets, chairs, garment hangers, kitchen utensils, farm tools, and hundred of the objects that Shakers had crafted and used.” Bissland had hoped to create a Shaker museum of his own but his untimely death in 1966 ended that dream. The spade was purchased by Howard and Flo Fertig for their Shaker collection.

As well known as Elder Frederick Evans was, this simple garden tool emphasizes that all Shakers, without consideration of their station in the Society, had a duty to work with their hands.

 

A boring machine that isn’t boring

In the two previous articles, we discussed a shoemaker’s bench and a pair of worsted combs, all made by Brother Richard Woodrow. In this post we present a tool – a beam auger – that he made and used in his woodworking at the Center Family at Mount Lebanon.

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Beam Auger, Center Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, 2009.1.1. Matthew Kroening, photographer

On April 13, 1850, a Shaker journalist noted in the Center Family journal: “R[ichard] B. W[oodrow] engaged something about building a boring machine &c.” Boring machines, or beam augers, were essential tools for framing heavy timber buildings. The various beams, posts, girts, rafter plates, sills, etc. in a building’s timber frame are connected using mortise and tenon joints – basically square (or most often rectangular) pegs fit into square (or rectangular) holes. Mortises – the holes – were made by drilling a series of one-and-one-half to two-inch round holes in a beam with a large auger. The holes were then fashioned into a rectangle with chisels to make them ready to receive the tenon. The tenon was made to fit in its corresponding mortise by shaping the end of a beam using saws and chisels. In a large building such as a Shaker barn, hundreds of such joints might be required. In the early 1850s, Brother Richard was faced with several timber framing projects – the largest of which was to be a huge new cow barn for the family’s herd. This project could have been the motivation for him to build a new beam auger.

Using the beam auger was pretty straightforward. Once the position for a mortise was marked on the beam, the tool was placed on the beam with the auger bit at one end of the marked out mortise. The timber-framer sat on the leather seat of the beam auger and turned the handles. On Brother Richard’s machine, the two-inch diameter twisted auger bit automatically dug into the beam – advancing deeper and deeper until it reached a pre-set depth at which time, without changing the direction the handles were being turned, the auger bit automatically reversed rotation and withdrew from the beam, returning to its original position. The operator then slid the machine to position the auger bit at the other end of the marked-out mortise and bored another hole. The auger was then positioned several more times to remove as much of wood between the first two holes as possible.  With some cleaning up with a chisel the mortise was ready for its tenon. To watch a short demonstration of a commercially made beam auger being used, try this one-minute YouTube demonstration made at a timber framing class at the Maplewood Center for Common Craft in Greenwich, New York.

Brother Richard’s beam auger is more mechanically complex than most commercially made examples. Whether Woodrow was copying some mechanism he had seen elsewhere or whether the reversing feature and pre-set depth adjustment were his own inventions has not been determined. (We welcome comments from any students of mid-19th century beam augers.) Brother Richard stamped the date “1851” and his initials “R. W.” on both metal handles. Unlike the dated worsted combs, which he had no intention of using himself, he may have added his initials to this tool in the tradesmen’s tradition of identifying the tool as the one he used.

The beam auger was purchased locally in New Lebanon, New York, by Donald Carpentier, the founder of Eastfield Village, a private teaching museum in East Nassau, New York. Don consigned the auger to Northeast Auctions, Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 2008 and it was purchased at auction by the Shaker Museum.

Although this concludes our three-part discussion about Brother Richard Woodrow and three objects in the Museum’s collection made by him, it is likely he will reappear in a later posting since there are a few more items in the collection associated with his Shaker life and work.