Shaker Museum

Mode-ometer or metronome made by Brother Isaac Newton Youngs, Church Family, Mount Lebanon, NY, ca. 1840. As Shakers standardized their music, they struggled to transfer information about the tempo at which songs were to be sung and dances were to be danced. In 1841, Isaac N. Youngs devised an instructional “Table of Modes” and this “mode-ometer,” as he called it, employing a pendulum consisting of a string of variable length weighted with a lead ball to set the proper tempo for each mode.

Bonnet form inscribed “F. House”, Church Family, Canterbury, NH. These two forms for shaping bonnets come from Shaker communities separated by 100 miles. Nearly identical in shape and size, they suggest one way in which Shaker Sisters in different communities sought to be in union in their dress.

Bonnet form carved from a pine block, Sabbathday Lake, ME. These two forms for shaping bonnets come from Shaker communities separated by 100 miles. Nearly identical in shape and size, they suggest one way in which Shaker Sisters in different communities sought to be in union in their dress.

Portrait of Elder Andrew Dana Barrett, (1838-1917). To be in union, Shaker Brothers at different communities would cut their hair the same way. Until the 1880s they were typically clean shaven, wore thick sideburns, cropped bangs short, and left a bit of length in the back.

Portrait of Brother George Washington Jones, (1845-1913). To be in union, Shaker Brothers at different communities would cut their hair the same way. Until the 1880s they were typically clean shaven, wore thick sideburns, cropped bangs short, and left a bit of length in the back.

Oval Box Made by Brother William Perkins for Sister Emily Offord, Mount Lebanon, NY. Used for storage, oval boxes were common among the Shakers. Many bear penciled inscriptions or initials, but few have carved lids. Here, Brother William Perkins carved the name of the box’s recipient into the lid with a unique decorative flourish.

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

Online Exhibition

In Union

The Shakers formed their first official community at Mount Lebanon in 1787. By the mid-19th century, at the height of Shakerism, there were more than 3,500 Shakers spread over 18 communities extending from Maine to Kentucky. How did Shakers produce a sense of common purpose and identity across such distance?

Shaker Families made monumental efforts to be “in union” with each other in all aspects of their lives. This meant not only worshiping with the same songs and dances but also building, dressing, speaking, farming, and manufacturing in as similar a manner as possible. A consistent and well-ordered built environment was to be a mirror for a consistent and well-ordered social body. But laws dictating, for instance, what furniture could be painted in which colors, or what level of woodworking detail was theologically acceptable, were sometimes felt to be restrictive. “Where there is no law there is no transgression,” wrote one Shaker carpenter of the satisfaction he found in identifying small opportunities for self-expression.