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Shaker Museum

"The sisters supposedly hated spinning the yarn for these raccoon gloves that they produced for sale. The production of the yarn, as well as the knitting, was extremely labor intensive. An entry in a Shaker sister’s diary from 1898 stated, "We finish the job of Coonskin picking,...200 skins, 361 lbs of good fur, 16 steady hands...have been employed 15 days." The fur, removed from the raccoon skins was carded, combined with silk, and then hand spun. The resulting yarn was noted for its softness, warmth, and durability. Raccoon fur products were sold at the Mount Lebanon gift shop and through Samuel Budd, an agent for the Shakers in New York City, who probably provided the Shakers with labels with his name on them." Katie Stout

A pair of brown wool gloves on a gray surface.

"I like these sheepskin gloves as a counterpoint to the raccoon gloves. They were made for use on the farm but are equally as chic!" Katie Stout

A pair of beige mittens on a gray surface.

"This hand broom epitomizes the Shakers’ penchant for simple and elegant solutions. Next show should just be brooms and mops because I have never seen a chicer group of cleaning tools." Katie Stout

A brown broom with a wooden handle.

"Everything the Shakers did feels like a celebration, even this pin cushion." Katie Stout

A small purple pillow on a grey surface.

"This pincushion with spool holders celebrates itself more than the other one by putting the pincushion on a pedestal and exalting the very idea of sewing. This is not an object that is meant to be put back into the sewing box; it is meant to sit out and be seen and be proud of. It’s a super feminist statement about a historically gendered craft." Katie Stout

A wooden stand with a pumpkin on it.

"I think Shaker fashion is one of the reasons we don’t readily think of the community as one of gender and societal reform. We see the cloaks and bonnets and think The Handmaid’s Tale, but the main idea of a bonnet wasn’t to oppress but to enable – by protecting the wearer from sun and wind. [This is one bonnet] I was attracted to in the collection, particularly for their use material.

A tan quilted hat on a gray background.

"Mother Ann’s name in spirit writing is so beautiful and I don’t understand it whatsoever. Spirit writing reminds me of the automatism that was utilized in surrealism. This epitomizes what to me is the importance of the hand in Shakerism." Katie Stout

A book with a calligraphy on the cover.

"I’m interested in the relationship between the spirit writing and the ornamentation of cobalt flourishes on these jugs from the Shaker medicine department." Katie Stout. Photographed by Zach Neven.

Two jugs with designs on them sit on a white tiled wall.

"Everyone talks about Shaker chairs but no one ever talks about Shaker thrones!" Katie Stout

A wooden chair with a wooden seat and a drawer.

Historic photographs on view in Fringe Selects. Photographed by Zach Neven.

A white shelf with several photographs on it.

"This photo of a Shaker bedroom brought me great joy because it shows the way a typical Shaker actually lived with their furniture (i.e. covered in doilies) and it contradicts the austerity with which Shaker furniture is typically presented. The Shakers preferred a cozy, cluttered, more human space than the Modernist sense of design would lead us to believe." Katie Stout

An old photo of a bedroom with a dresser.

"The photo of Sister Lillian Barlow demonstrating how the lathe works at the chair shop she ran exemplifies gender equality. Sister Lillian Barlow ran the Mt. Lebanon Woodworking Company with Brother William Perkins, so I think it’s especially significant that in these 1940s photos she is the one demonstrating the equipment when there was a male counterpart who could have been the one photographed. It’s obvious to me that she is wearing this dress for the special occasion of having her photo taken because it’s far too clean to actually wear in a shop and loose clothing can be hazardous around a lathe. It makes me wonder if Shaker women wearing pants was tolerated. Furthermore, it calls to mind a butch Victorian aesthetic that I am super interested in." Katie Stout

An old black and white photo of a woman working in a workshop.

"There is a lot to unpack in this photo of sister Martha Burger in the Store. First of all, it contextualizes the stuffed animals, pin cushions, and washcloth doll, and it shows how the Shakers capitalized on popular trends. I like comparing the photo of the store to the photo of the bedroom because it provides a visual glimpse of the similarities and differences of how the Shakers lived and what they sold. Again, I love the how the cluttered presentation of Shaker goods contradicts the Modernist take on Shaker sensibilities, which again, gives me great pleasure." Katie Stout

A man sitting at a table in a room.

"I picked this photo without knowing anything about its subject Sister Leila Taylor. I liked it simply for the variety of textures, especially the ruffling of her dress, and how powerful and calm her presence feels. I later realized that in each of the photos depicting a Shaker woman, she is holding some sort of tool with purpose. Sister Leila Taylor has her finger in a book, as if she will continue reading it after the photo is taken; Sister Martha Burger is holding a pen as is if she will continue bookkeeping; and Sister Lillian Barlow is demonstrating the lathe. " Katie Stout

An old photograph of a woman sitting in a chair.

"Like the bonnet, this seems like more oppressive women’s wear, but it’s actually a face covering for a bull. " Katie Stout. Photographed by Zach Neven.

A chair and a bag on display in a white room.

Chair by Katie Stout. Photographed by Zach Neven.

A chair made out of a plastic bag.

Chair by Katie Stout. Photographed by Zach Neven.

A white chair with ruffles on it.

Fringe Selects: An exhibition of Shaker objects curated by Katie Stout (2021)

Through a selection of Shaker material chosen by artist Katie Stout from the Museum’s permanent collection, Fringe Selects explores the breadth of Shaker objects by taking a closer look at the objects on the “fringe”—colorful, ornamental, and less well-known than the minimalist, iconic Shaker pieces. Also on view are two new chairs created by Stout as a response to her exploration of Shaker material culture.

Stout states,

My initial interest in Shaker design came from the Shakers’ sense of material and how even the simplest object feels like a celebration and an exaltation of spirit. Their resourcefulness, simple solutions, and entrepreneurial genius have always been inspiring to me. While Shaker design is typically presented as cold, bald, and minimal – a manifestation of their virtues of purity and honesty – the truth is that the Shakers loved ruffles and color! I have found that the purity and honesty of Shaker design is reflected in the act of making, not just in minimal design, which resulted in a wide array of life affirming objects and art.

Fringe Selects offers a more textured perspective on Shaker design to counter the predominant belief that Shaker design is minimalist and strictly utilitarian. I chose objects, photos, and art from Shaker Museum’s collection that I found surprising and in contrast to the austerity one typically associates with Shakers. Turns out the Shakers lived with as much ornament and clutter as the least pious of us. Leave it to modernism to strip Shaker design of its doilies!

In addition to my selections from the Shaker Museum collection, I am excited to include two new chairs made in reaction to my findings in the collection. I was greatly inspired by the Shaker bonnets and cloaks made predominantly by Shaker women. I started by thinking of upholstery as the bonnet / cloak of the chair. As I began making these bonnet chairs, I fell into a more automatic and trance-like way of making – not dissimilar to that of the Shaker trances and production processes during the Era of Manifestations, an early 19th-century period when the Shakers were in communication with the spirit world. The end result became a silly frilly duo of cloaked and bonnet-ed chairs joined in a permanent Shaker dance.

Katie Stout (b. 1989, Portland, ME) lives and works in Brooklyn, NY and holds a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. Katie is regarded as one of the leading designers of her generation and is known for utilizing a diverse range of media and unexpected techniques to create works ranging from sculptures to furniture. Her works have been exhibited nationally and internationally and are in the permanent collection San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Dallas Museum of Art and the Museum of Art and Design in New York. She has been featured in T Magazine, the New York Times, Apartmento, Artforum and numerous other publications.

Fringe Selects was previously on view Friday through Sunday at 17 Main Street in Chatham, NY through March 28, 2021.

The exhibition has a complementary digital experience in partnership with Design Miami/ on the Shaker Museum YouTube channel. In the Work: Makers and Shakers, a discussion featuring Katie Stout and Shaker Museum Executive Director Lacy Schutz, can be viewed here.

A black and white photo of a person smiling.

Shane Rothe

Curatorial Associate

Shane Rothe (they/them) joined Shaker Museum in July 2023, working with independent curator Maggie Taft on an exhibition for the new museum space in Chatham. Shane is an artist as well as a curator and continues to create in the mediums of painting, sculpture, writing, and performance. Shane holds a BFA from CalArts and an MA in art history and curatorial studies from the University of Chicago.