Inspired Innovations: A Celebration of Shaker Ingenuity is currently on view in the McKernan Gallery showcasing beautifully hand-crafted furniture, inventions and artifacts from the Shaker community.
Curated by West Hartford, Connecticut Shaker scholar and collector M. Stephen Miller, Inspired Innovations seeks to raise awareness about the Shakers, who have successfully faced more than 220 years of challenges. Emphasis will be placed on the community that existed in Enfield, Connecticut from 1790 to 1917.
The Shaker exhibition includes over 400 objects spanning from approximately 1800 to 2009, in addition to examples of their flower seed packets, foods, herbs and woodenwares industry. The gallery is arranged into 12 Zones of Innovation: garden seeds, medicinal herbs, food products, woodenwares, basketry, cooperage, textiles, chair industry, fancy goods, health and sanitation, bed room and inventions. Three rooms resembling traditional Shaker quarters – the retiring (bed) room, infirmary, and textile production room – house the work in the museum. The entire gallery is painted in traditional Shaker colors to create an authentc atmosphere.
The Shakers were originally called “shaking Quakers” because of the eccentric way in which they worshiped God through spontaneous dance and movement. “Shaking Quakers” was eventually shortened to Shakers. Members of the group chose to give up their families, property and worldly ties in order to experience the peaceable nature of Christ’s kingdom. They lived together in holy families, which placed emphasis on communal living, celibacy and gender equality. The Shaker motto, “Put your hands to work and your heart to God,” inspired them to invent hundreds of devices which cut down on labor, such as clothespins and the circular saw.
The Shakers came to be known for their brilliant craftsmanship in architecture and furniture. Today, the Shakers continue to be appreciated for their immense contributions to American crafts and architecture through exhibits like the NBMAA’s Inspired Innovations: A Celebration of Shaker Ingenuity.
The January 25th symposium “The Shakers and the World: The Past Meets the Present” featured talks with: Dr. Scott T. Swank, on “Shaker Innovations in the Use of Space–Inside and Out.” Dr. Swank is Executive Director of The Heritage Plantation, Sandwich, Massachusetts and author of Arts of the Pennsylvania Germans and Shaker Life, Art, and Architecture: Hands to Work, Hearts to God––an in-depth study of the Canterbury community he helped to restore; Dr. Glendyne Wergland on, “O Sisters ain’t you happy”, a discussion on how women fit into the Shaker world. Dr. Werglund has written three books on Shaker studies: One Shaker Life: Isaac Newton Youngs, 1793-1865; Visiting the Shakers: 1778–1849, and Sisters of the Faith; and Christian Goodwillie on “How Are the Shakers Relevant To Us?” Goodwillie is Curator of Special Collections, Hamilton College, Clinton , NY. He has published Shaker Songs; Gather Up the Fragments: The Andrews Shaker Collection, with M. Stephen Miller, Handled With Care: The Function of Form in Shaker Craft, and with Jane Crosswaite, Millennial Praises.
Art Happy Hour on March 11 will feature “The Market for Shaker Furniture and Furnishings” by John Keith Russell, a dealer in Shaker and other artifacts and “Myths and Legends Surrounding the Shakers” by Stephen J. Paterwic, the leading historian of the Shaker movement, respectively. Special guided one-hour exhibition tours with curator M. Stephen Miller will be on March 9 and March 24 at 10 a.m. for free with general admission. Enjoy the film “I Don’t Want to Be Remembered as a Chair” on March 25 at 1 and 4 p.m.