Shaker Blog

Blog post by Thaddeus Sipe

When told to think of a chair, there are endless images that can come to mind.  Perhaps we do not even think of a specific chair, but a culmination of aspects of chairs we know to be true.  Perhaps we think of a comfy arm chair with cushions so plump we sink into them and are loath to move from our seat.  Perhaps we think of a straight backed school chair from our grade school years, or a dinning room chair, or a stool of some sort.  Now when we think of a table, we are faced with the same thought process.  What if there was a table that was so utilitarian, and so artfully made that we need not wonder what aspects to attribute to our table in our minds, we could simply see a table.  Because of their strict guidelines and reverence in their work, the Shakers perhaps come close to creating such a table.

Shaker artisans and craftsmen went about their lives with deliberate intention.  They were not careless, they were purposeful.  It is this purpose that allows for something created in its simplest form to appear so beautiful.  The tables created by the Shakers were plain and functional.  They were most ordinary and regular.  Andrews relays to us in his essay a declaration held by the Shaker believers.  “Regularity is beautiful.”(Andrews 21)  It is this belief that allows the Shaker craftsmen to understand his substrate so utterly.  He is not concerned with frivolity of form, or ornament of edging.  He is concerned with using the substrate, the wood, most efficiently and purposefully.  When laying the table top of say a side table, he uses a piece of wood cut with the grain longways.  This allows function and form to unite.  The legs of the table are again cut with the grain so that the grain informs on the shape.  The legs are not ornamented, but are instead as functional as possible.  They use the least amount of wood possible to create a sturdy base.  If the side table is to have a drawer, it is plain and “hangs” from underneath the table, unhidden by a frame work.  This again cuts down on excess and wasted substrate.

In Andrews essay he tells us of the English craftsmen William Morris.  Morris has said, “have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful…”  and that by an “accumulation of useless things not only are beautiful things kept out, but the very sense of beauty is perpetually dulled and ground away!”(Andrews 22)  It would appear that William Morris embodied many of the principles of the Shakers.  His sensibility of usefulness and beauty coinciding are paramount to the Shakers order. It would be prudent to note however that Morris practiced design in a much different style to the Shakers.  He was not held to such high constraints.  The use of frivolous and extra ornamentation does nothing useful for the design, therefore it is useless and actually detracts from the function and the beauty of the product.  Because of their strict rules, the Shakers were able to strip away the unnecessary aspects of life and design leaving behind the search for the most pure and perfect form.  In this pursuit is where they communed with God and where they gained true understanding of their craft.


Andrews, Edward Deming and Faith Andrews.  Shaker Furniture.  New York:  Dover, 1964.