Shaker Museum

"Elevator" or orthopedic shoe, Canterbury, NH. The platform on this shoe might seem to anticipate 21st century style. In fact, it was not fashion but need for a functional assistive device that motivated its design.

Wheelchair, Mount Lebanon or Watervliet, NY, ca. 1830. This common rocking chair, retrofitted with wheels that at one time probably had leather “tires” mounted on them, likely wasn’t used outside, but would have allowed its user to move around the dwelling house and smooth walkways with ease.

Shakers: In Community (July 17 – October 4, 2020)

Online Exhibition

Access

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?