Selling Shaker: The Commodification of Shaker Design in the Twentieth Century

Selling Shaker: The Commodification of Shaker Design in the Twentieth Century

Selling Shaker: The Commodification of Shaker Design in the Twentieth Century

Selling Shaker: The Commodification of Shaker Design in the Twentieth Century


The simple yet striking lines of Shaker design grace much of the furniture we see in high-end department stores, and beautiful examples of it adorn the pages of Architectural Digest and House Beautiful. How did this style evolve from its origins in a humble, small religious community to the international design phenomenon it is today? This illustrated study explores the emergence of the Shaker style and how it was vigorously promoted by scholars and artists into the prominence it now enjoys. The heart of the Shaker style lies in the religious movement founded in the eighteenth century, where Stephen Bowe and Peter Richmond begin their chronicle. From there, the authors chart the evolution of the style into the twentieth century- particularly in the hands of design media, scholars, and art institutions. These Shaker "agents" repositioned Shaker style continuously- from local vernacular to high culture and then popular culture. Drawing on a rich array of sources, including museum catalogs, contemporary design magazines, and scholarly writings, Selling Shaker illustrates in detail how the Shaker style entered the general design consciousness and how the original aesthetic was gradually diluted into a generic style for a mass audience. A wholly original and fascinating study of American design and consumption, Selling Shaker is a unique resource for collectors, scholars, and anyone interested in the cultural history of a design aesthetic.


The appreciation of Shaker design has developed throughout the twentieth century and its influence has become global being found in America, Europe, Australia and Japan. Exhibitions have been instrumental in the promotion of the Shaker aesthetic and institutions such as the Whitney Museum of American Art have had an important role in the selling of the style and this has been evidenced in their 1986 exhibition.

Early developments at Fruitlands by Clara Endicott Sears and the creation of museum villages such as Hancock and Pleasant Hill are now well documented. Again these have increased the profile of the Shakers and have featured in numerous articles, books and moving images. In addition, other museums have created period rooms in which the furniture and interior design of the Shakers have been preserved. A number of these have been featured in this book and the following are acknowledged: Philadelphia Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Winterthur Museum, Chicago Art Institute, Boston Museum of Art and The American Museum in Britain. In addition, the collection of catalogues acquired for this book will be housed in the library of The American Museum in Britain which is located in Bath.

The idea for the title of this book is taken from a section in the Stephen Stein book, The Shaker Experience in America, entitled 'Selling of the Shakers', while the format and structure come holistically from Religion in Wood: A Book of Shaker Furniture, by Edward Deming Andrews and Faith Andrews. This project has been a long time in the making and basically started in 1990 when a programme entitled I Don't Want to be Remembered as a Chair was shown on BBC television in the United Kingdom. This in part documented the commercialisation which had become evident in the 1990s of a style which became associated with both Minimalism and Modernism.

The book is divided into four sections dealing with various themes and emphasises both exhibitions and the people involved in the promotion of the Shakers and their design. The first is 'Simple and Pure — The Early Promotion of Shaker Design in the United States of America' (1900 to 1945). The second is 'Forms and Forces — The Penetration of Shaker Design . . .

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