I was recently at two Shaker sites, the Lebanon Village in New York and the adjacent Hancock Village in Massachusets. Growing up in Kentucky, I visited the Pleasant Hill Shaker village a number of times and it was fascinating to tour these two northeastern sites that was its origin.
There has been a lot written about the Shakers and their legacy, culturally and architecturally. It is easy to forget when we throw around the term “Shaker-style” regarding cabinets or doors, that it is not just the name of a type of a style, or even a sensibility, but rather an entire community and its history and practices that we are so lightly referencing. Their quest for simplicity and integrity that we see and admire in a Shaker chair or some simple trim reflected their desire for perfection in the eyes of God. Their reductivism in materials and ornament wasn’t just a Yankee-inspired parsimony, but a quest to distill the physical world to its barest, more sublime essentials.
The practicality and forthrightness of their designs and execution have been admired by generations of woodworkers and carpenters, architects and designers. The rise and proliferation of the Modern Farmhouse style certainly owes much of its appeal to the simple, beautifully proportioned work of these 19th century religious zealots whose motto “hearts to God, hands to work”, nicely encapsulates their philosophy. The popularity of Shaker style work maybe lies in its dual appeal to both simplicity and clean-lines as well as a vaguely nostalgic appeal for handicrafts.
There is really so much fascinating work in evidence at these two Shaker sites that I can’t possibly put it all down in a single blog post. Over the next couple of months I will put out a post or two about the aspects of Shaker work that continues to influence me and so many other modern architects.