The Shaker Museum was born out of a passion for tool collecting. The Museum’s founder, John S. Williams, Sr., when he moved to Columbia County in the mid-1930s began collecting tools related to farming and trades that supported farming. When he became aware of the Shakers still living at Mount Lebanon and found that they still had tools in their workshops and barns available for sale, he focused his collecting on Shaker tools and eventually other objects related to their lives. The collection quickly grew to several thousand tools, ranging from the smallest drill bits to a blacksmith’s trip-hammer weighing several tons. Williams originally organized his tools by trades, setting up a Shaker cabinetmaker’s shop, a shoe shop, a tinsmith’s shop, a basketmaker’s shop, a tailor’s shop, and so on. He invited tradesmen to come to the Museum and show visitors how various tools were used, sometimes even operating machinery for the public himself.
Tools all have a specific use. Most have a long history of how they were developed and improved. Each tool has a right and a wrong way in which it should be used. All of these stories could be told, but a tool often also has a sculptural beauty – an interesting look that goes beyond having to understand its function and history. This exhibition, which was on view in the Brethren’s Workshop at the Mount Lebanon historic site during the 2017 season, featured a variety of tools from the Museum’s collection, representing many different trades, as objects of art and design.
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.