In a bid for gender equality, Shakers practiced celibacy, and men and women prayed, ate, and slept separately. Even though there was neither marriage nor procreation, Shakers used the term ‘family’ to describe their kinship communities, typically made up of 50-100 Brothers, Sisters, and children who had come with their parents or were taken in for care.
Apart from their size, Shaker families bore certain resemblance to more traditional ones. For one, they were multi-generational. For another, their members had little privacy. In fact, personal space was foregone almost entirely in favor of common space. Shaker Sisters typically slept four or more to a room, sharing beds and other furnishings. The same was true for Shaker Brothers. And though gender separation was intended to facilitate equality and to minimize temptation for men and women to form intimate relationships, it also led men and women to be responsible for different kinds of work. Men practiced trades such as blacksmithing, woodworking, and shoemaking while women worked at spinning, dyeing, and weaving. Men farmed while women did domestic chores. Thus, in division of labor, too, Shaker families mirrored their worldly counterparts.
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.