In July, I joined a small group for a tour of the collection of the Shaker Museum in Old Chatham, New York, where we meandered among metal shelves filled with thousands of wooden boxes and benches, baskets and tables, brooms and bureaus, chests and ladder-back chairs, all meticulously catalogued and digitized. Despite the obvious care invested in the objects’ documentation and organization, however, the institution’s old barn and outbuildings are “not appropriate storage for the world’s most significant collection of Shaker material culture,” according to Shaker Museum Executive Director Lacy Schutz. “We just can’t keep [the HVAC system] running anymore,” she said, adding that the facilities aren’t compliant with accessibility standards, and that it would be prohibitively expensive to bring everything up to code.
So plans are in place for the 18,000-item collection, which has not been accessible to the public since 2009, to move about eight miles south to downtown Chatham, where the firms Selldorf Architects and Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects are working to transform an early 19th-century redbrick building—previously housing a sanitarium, a theater, a roller rink, a hotel, a furniture store, a knitting factory, and a car dealership—into the Shaker Museum’s new home. The 30,000-square-foot museum will include galleries for permanent and rotating exhibitions, conservation and storage facilities, and a gift shop.