Because Shaker faith was in many ways realized through the routines of daily life, it was essential that all members of the community be able to participate in those routines. Thus, Shakers designed or retrofitted objects to facilitate mobility and foster inclusion. For example, when one Brother developed palsy, a typical Shaker side chair was retrofitted with a device to hold his head steady so that he could shave himself. (It was the custom of the time for Shaker men to not wear beards.)
The innovative design solutions, developed to ensure that all members could participate in communal life, can offer unique insight into how Shakers understood the role of the individual within the community. Were assistive devices intended to foster independence so that every Shaker could individually contribute to the common project? Or, were they designed to eliminate individuality by integrating the user into the community?
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.