The Shakers were founded in England in 1747 by Mother Ann Lee. They practiced celibacy. Men and women lived apart in dormitory-like buildings, but they came together to work and pray. They believed in personal communication with a God who was both male and female. They had hymns and work songs. Observing their rhythmic swaying and dancing, outsiders gave them the name “Shakers.” At their peak, they had about 6,000 members, with eighteen communities in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine, Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky, one of the largest of which was 300 strong.
The men were shrewd about making money, producing and selling objects they made or invented, including a circular saw, washing machine, and flat brooms. They quickly gained a reputation for the simplicity and durability of their furniture items. One example is the ladder-back chair shown below.
These photographs were made over the course of several visits to Shaker Village in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky. We went as a family and stayed overnight in rooms furnished and appointed in the Shaker tradition. There was much to see and photograph, and the produce served in the restaurant was grown in a large garden outside. Altogether it was an experience of peace, quiet, and simplicity conducive to reflection.
For me, the appeal of the Shaker aesthetic is that it is an excellent example of how the design principles of sacred geometry—demonstrated in nature, ancient sacred sites and cathedrals—suggest grandeur and spiritual presence. In the case of the Shaker aesthetic, these include symmetry, the “golden mean” or ratio, long lines, centeredness, openness, muted consistency of color, a lack of clutter, the unobstructed control of natural light through windows, and light grading across rounded surfaces such as ceilings.
Don’t make something unless it is both necessary and useful;
If it is both necessary and useful, don’t hesitate to make it beautiful.
That is best which works best.
Beauty rests on utility.
Simplicity is the embodiment of purity and unity.