The Shakers: Decoding an Identity
MacLachlan Museum of Woodworking (Kingston, Ontario)
May – August 31st, 2016

shaker installation view 1

In a brainstorming session with the curators of the MacLachlan Museum of Woodworking (Kingston, Ontario) and the Hancock Shaker Village (Pittsfield, Massachusetts), I proposed the idea of a show that would introduce visitors to some of the analytic tools useful for decoding or reading material objects to learn about the Shakers. The idea was simple: divide the show into ten stations based on categories derived from the basic principles of design, ranging from “fabrication” to “materials” to “aesthetics.” Each station would feature two or three Shaker artifacts that visitors could then “decode” according to the relevant category. In addition to conducting preparatory research on the history of the Shakers, design, and woodworking, I wrote the wall text for the show, and helped select the accompanying objects.


Do you know who made this object? Under what conditions? See if you can find a “signature” or stamp somewhere on the object.This clock, which bears the name of its maker, is the exception that proves the rule. Because Shakers believed that the individual should subsume their identity into that of the group, most objects were produced anonymously.


Where do you think this object might have been placed in a room? Imagine how it might have appeared in relationship with other objects or to people in the room.

The bench, a form of seating that forces individuals to sit close together and on the same level, suggests that the Shakers valued equality and community over hierarchy and individuality.

shaker fabrication

Examine the object’s construction. How do you think it was designed and built?To make the refined dovetail joinery that holds this rocking chair together, required hand tools and incredible patience. This painstaking method reflected the Shakers belief in perfection (material and spiritual) and their view of work as a form of worship.

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