With Inscribed, Shaker Museum presents objects made of wood that have been marked in some way – with stenciled or hand-painted notations or incised by stamping or carving names or initials into wood – all of which provide information about how the objects were used, who used them, or where they were used. Although Shakers held all things in common and were expected to treat community property as such, it was common for members to mark tools with their names or initials to notify others that they were the primary user. After all, cabinetmakers did not expect others to use, or even more concerning, to sharpen their tools. A second set of initials occasionally appear on a tool that was passed on to another Shaker. It was also important that everyone understood the proper use of things. For example, sieves made to be used in sorting or cleaning garden seeds should not be used to sift wood ash – marking it clearly as belonging in the “Seed Loft” avoided such confusion. Living along major roadways, Shakers experienced frequent visitors and used signs to inform and direct them to places they were encouraged or forbidden to visit. Shakers were dependent on commerce with the world, often using painted signs to let the public know where Shaker goods could be purchased.
Among other objects of interest, Inscribed showcases an array of historic buckets denoting each one’s use with labels like “fire,” “oatmeal,” “beans,” and “rice.” There is a collection of sieves from the 1800s. The size of the sieve rim and how tightly the mesh was woven determined how the sieve was intended to be used and the markings on each kept the inventory in order. Bowls, baskets, building signs, wheelbarrows, tailor’s rulers, bonnet patterns, die stamps, and stencils are also on display. The range of material on display in this exhibition underscores how prevalent inscriptions and markings were in Shaker culture.
Inscribed was previously on view from March 17-May 28, 2023, at the Kinderhook Knitting Mill at 8 Hudson Street, Kinderhook, NY.