Sunday, July 22, 2012

All Thing's Shaker

It was 1979 and I had been out of college for a year and was still trying to find my way in the working world. Work was hard to come by in though days much like today. Since I had just graduated from college I thought a job that involved wearing a suit and tie would suit me well and come with a paycheck that was big enough to help me repay my student loans. But, even back than I had a yearning to work with my hands. So one day I purchased a small craftsman table saw and a lathe kit that I not only had to learn how to use but also had to put together.
One of my first projects that involved the lathe was a rocker. Much of the furniture I got back then was collected from various garage sales. Oak furniture was big back then and so was stripping furniture and refinishing it. The rocker I brought home from a garage sale was carried home in a basket. I had to figure out how to put it all back together. When the assembly was complete I found I was missing three spindles. So I salvaged some oak from an old pallet and begin teaching myself how to create the missing spindles. After the rocker was completed I became obsessed with rockers of all types. At a local bookstore I found a small book on building Shaker furniture, specifically shaker chairs and rockers. It was the beginning of one of my life long obsessions with both chair building and the Shakers.
Once I began collecting books of Shaker furniture it was only a matter of time before I became interested in the Shakers themselves. The Shakers were a religious community that started in the 18th century that was developed around communal living and developed a set of cultural values and ideas that had a very profound effected on our American society even today.
Being a true child of the seventies and eighties I was fascinated with their emphasis on simple rural living. The seventies were filled with people that were in to the back to the land movement, John Denver, flannel shirts and blue jeans. So an interest in the the Shakers was for me a natural extension of all the things that I was finding fascinating back then.
In the early eighties I made a trip out to Maine, summer camping all the way out and back. One Saturday night I had a hard time finding a camp ground so I ended up pulling off the road and sleeping in the van for the night(Yes, you had to be young). The next morning I got up, found a place to have breakfast and than when I was driving down the road after breakfast I found the Shaker museum at Hancock, Massachusetts.
Even though money was tight I decided to pay the entrance fee and began walking through the village. What we found was a simple aesthetic beauty that transformed me. The buildings with their simple but sometimes stunning architectural features, the furnishings built with a beauty based on form and function, the air itself seemed charged with a spiritual presence of those that had lived and worked there. The round stone barn was one of the most usual barns I had ever seen.
The workshop with its large work bench inspired me to some day own or build a similar bench. For years I searched for the plans to build such a bench. I loved the finish of the oiled wood and the mottled color of the aged blue paint.
I think that all the wonderful cabinets and cupboards with their many drawers was the start of my current fascination with cabinets with drawers. There were cabinet with drawers everywhere. The drawers were all numbered and labeled for the items to be stored within.
Even the attics of some of the buildings were organized with drawers. You could feel the history and love that went into building the buildings and their furnishings.
I realize that the Shakers are not as in vogue now like they were in the eighties but when I read some of the current magazines like Praire Style and its emphasis on simple living and love of vintage it is very easy for me to let my mind drift back to my early interest in the Shakers. I still find myself looking thru my Shaker books and when CJ and I stopped at a small Shaker village museum a couple of years ago we found a wonderful spiritual sense about it, that is was hard not to be overwhelmed by in much the same way I was touched some thirty years ago.
So in September when was are done with the Country Living show was are planning on spending a night on our way home at the Shaker village in Pleasant Hill Kentucky. It is one of the few Shaker villages that has on site overnight accomdations in original Shaker structures. I have been there before but CJ has not. So we are looking forward to being there together. We are hoping that our experience their will inspire us and recharge our engines in much the same way my first Shaker experience did for me.
I am grateful for all the ideas and experiences in my live that I have had that have contributed to my aesthetic sense and my love of creating but I found myself today particularly thankful  for my Shaker experience and how it has contributed to my love of a simple country aesthetic, and my love of the agrarian living.
Oh, and by the way after thirty five years I have learned that doing something for a living that involves me wearing a suit and tie just doesn't work for me.

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