Historic Collection of Shaker Furniture Up for Auction

Historic Collection of Shaker Furniture Up for Auction

By Emily Shapiro
A vast collection of Shaker furniture, representing the group's utilitarian leanings and stringent lifestyle, goes up for auction in Boston.

The striking, minimalist furniture of the Shaking Quakers, more commonly known as the Shakers, has inspired a dedicated following among design enthusiasts and historians alike since their heyday in the mid-nineteenth century. Edward and Faith Andrews were two such followers of the small, isolated group, whose interest in the Shakers developed into a full-scale intellectual obsession that resulted in eight books and over four decades of tireless promotion. On June 15, 2014, Skinner Inc. will offer the Andrews Shaker Collection at auction in Boston, showcasing a vast assortment of the Shakers’ innovative furniture and other objects.

This lidded wooden pail was made in New Hampshire around 1855. One of only a few surviving Shaker pails, this example’s well-constructed, functional design is enhanced by a beautiful yellow painted lid. Photo courtesy Skinner, Inc.

Although they are renowned for their well-made, simply designed furniture, baskets, and boxes, the history and culture of the Shakers is equally as interesting as their surviving work. The group, which has all but died out, was a small and radical collection of men and women who followed a strict set of rules including fervent spirituality, an ascetic, celibate lifestyle (hence the dwindling population), and a penchant for ecstatic movement and dancing. Their furniture mirrored this stringent lifestyle in simply constructed, utilitarian pieces that reject any excessive ornamentation as sinful, focusing instead on quality, functionality, and overall form.

The juxtaposition of cabinet and drawers of this pine cupboard from New Lebanon, New York adds visual interest without sacrificing honest, minimal design with excessive ornamentation. Photo courtesy Skinner, Inc.

A loom bench was an ergonomic piece designed specifically for weavers. Its curved seat was comfortable and stable enough for the worker, while the drawer added extra storage. Photo courtesy Skinner, Inc.

This case of drawers, made of red stained pine in typical Shaker fashion, features a dovetailed base. Photo courtesy of Skinner, Inc.

Shakers are well known for their ladder-back chairs, and this understated, seemingly ageless design is the classic Shaker piece. Its restrained simplicity embodies the discipline of the Shakers themselves—its straight back encouraging good posture, orderliness, and control. Photo courtesy of Skinner, Inc.


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