Shaker Furniture: The Craftsmanship of an American Communal Sect

Shaker Furniture: The Craftsmanship of an American Communal Sect

Shaker Furniture: The Craftsmanship of an American Communal Sect

Shaker Furniture: The Craftsmanship of an American Communal Sect

Excerpt

The task of gathering and examining the great mass of material essential to comprehending the philosophy of the Shaker sect and its particular expression in the domain of craftsmanship has engaged the time and attention of Mr. and Mrs. Andrews for at least fifteen years. That throughout this undertaking the methods of disciplined scholarship have been employed must be obvious to any reader of this book who is sensitive to the impact of convincing evidence carefully marshaled and clearly presented. At the same time, it is well to insist that, had the authors confined themselves to a purely objective investigation, their long labor would have achieved but barren results. The preliminary process of unearthing bare factual data entailed winning not merely the confidence but the affectionate cooperation of man middle-aged and elderly folk in still surviving Shaker communities. Adequate interpretation of the accumulated findings demanded more than knowledge, more than sympathetic insight. It involved the exercise of that extremely subtle gift of duality whereby it is possible to become spiritually merged in the extrinsic while yet preserving an unclouded intellectual point of view. In this procedure Mr. and Mrs. Andrews were notably successful. They gave their hearts to the Shakers and won a response in kind, but they never for a moment forgot their obligation to shun all sentimentality in their effort both to demonstrate the actuality of Shaker accomplishment and to reveal its underlying motives in behalf of the worldlings of today.

Their book is of singular timeliness. It comes to hand when many dwellers in the United States are concerned about prospects of change in the social structure of the nation. Under such circumstances, information is needed regarding the causes and results of whatever social experiments have hitherto been undertaken by protagonists of the perfect state. The most extensive, enduring and fruitful of such experiments was that conducted by the voluntary associations, or so-called families, of the Shakers. Although the history of that remarkable enterprise is here only inciden-

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