Tour: Shaker Crafts from the Index of American Design
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The Shaker church in American was founded by Ann Lee and seven followers who came from Manchester, England, in 1774. After an early settlement near Albany, the Shakers founded in 1786 what was to be their central colony at New Lebanon, New York. There, they were able to form an independent, communal society where they could live, work, and worship without persecution. The Shaker sect was distinguished from other communal groups by the strict religious tenets that guided every aspect of life. Shaker life was modeled on the vision of a heavenly kingdom in which "true gospel simplicity" was the cardinal principle. Purity of mind, harmony, and order were the most esteemed Shaker virtues. The qualities of harmony and order were translated into the design of articles for daily life made by Shaker craftsmen. Shaker design is distinguished by simplicity of form, harmonious relationship of parts, good workmanship, and utility. Because ornate forms represented a worldliness that they had abandoned, the Shakers kept decoration to a minimum and eliminated veneers. Belief in the sanctity of labor and emphasis on the quality of each task were essential elements in maintaining the high standards of Shaker craftsmanship.