a journey to the artists, origins and work of American craft
Wheelchair, Watervliet, N Y, c. 1820–1830. Courtesy of Shaker Museum and Library, Old Chatham and New Lebanon, New York.
Rocking Chair, Mount Lebanon, c. 1880. Courtesy of Shaker Museum and Library, Old Chatham and New Lebanon, New York.
The craft artist understands a hung on walls with wooden pegs, yet of traditional wood splints, cane,
material—wood, fiber, metal, were strong and sturdy. Designed for or other materials because the tape
glass, or clay—and how to comfort and practicality, chair backs would not break, dry out, or snag
work with it to make one-of- were slanted and the two back legs clothing. Although they chose it for
a-kind objects. Ideas about function often had “tilter” feet for sitters who practical reasons, they combined col-and beauty guide the imagination wished to lean back in the chair. For ored tapes to create beautiful basket
as the artist creates objects within the Shaker sensibility, utility and weave, herringbone, and checker-centuries-old craft traditions. Craft beauty were the same. board patterns.
artists make design decisions “ The Shaker saying, “Beauty while working the material—in The peculiar grace of a Shaker chair rests on utility,” was trans- the process of making an object, is due to the fact that it was made by lated into the design of many
as well as in preliminary plan- someone capable of believing that articles for daily life. Utilitar-ning. Like designers, craft artists an angel might come and sit on it.” ian objects from “The World” consider the context in which —Thomas Merton were often adapted for use in
the object will be used and the the community. By adding two
needs of the people who will use it. For the craft artist and designer, drawers to the design of the com-
The Shaker ladder-back chair is innovation and adaptation are often mon pedestal table, for example, the
an icon for fine artistry and superb artistic responses to novel circum- Shaker craftsperson created a sewing
design. Guided by the principle stances or specific needs. For exam- table to be used by two Shaker sisters
of simplicity, the Shakers crafted ple, the Shaker wheelchair shown at one time. A strong belief in the
these chairs with careful atten- here was converted from a ladder-back importance of harmony and order, as
tion to detail and a profound com- rocker to meet the special needs of well as a commitment to unadorned,
mitment to functionality. These someone in the community. Shaker functional style can be seen in their
elegant chairs were light enough to craftspeople began to use woven fab- distinctive woodenware, baskets, fur-be moved from room to room and ric tape to create chair seats instead niture, and textiles.