Utopian Communities and Decorative Arts - The Shakers

One of the earliest and most successful spiritual communities known for their furniture making were the Shakers. While Shaker communities were rigid in their guidelines and way of life, they were also quite progressive.  Evolved from the Quakers, Shakers were pacifistic, egalitarian, communal, and almost entirely self-sufficient. They were celibate, did not marry, and there was no hierarchy based on sex, race or education. Each member had a job, and hard work was a method of worship. 

The Shakers coveted functionality and efficiency in all aspects of their lives, including what was in their homes. Their no-frills wooden furniture was commonly built into the wall of the home or able to hang on the walls to simplify cleaning. Believing ornamentation to be prideful, their focus was on construction. They used woods commonly found around them and used turned knobs for drawer pulls rather than imported brass hardware. Despite the simplicity of their furnishings, it was not uncommon to see Shaker homes with plumbing and running water, even in the mid-19th century. Though steadfast against patenting their inventions due to their communal property beliefs, the Shakers were always in search of ways to work more efficiently and manufactured their own tools.  

In part because of their tenet of celibacy, Shaker communities began to steadily decline after the Civil War. While furniture has become what most associate with Shakers, the furniture they built was just one aspect of their deeply pious existence. Today, their furniture is a testament to the simplicity they strove for in all aspects of their life. It remains timeless and continues to survive, even while the movement itself has all but disappeared.   


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