Restoration Newsletter (by John Curry and Staff)

Shaker chairs

    On the market today are many shaker style reproduction chairs.  The sheer simplicity and beauty have made them popular for many years. The chairs have their own story though. Shaker chairs, while created from the start of the communities, were  mandated in their Shaker Millennial Laws of 1845 that every room in a Shaker commune have one or two candle stands and a chair. Every Shaker bedroom also had a peg board on the wall and other pieces of simple furniture. With the main beliefs of the Shakers focused on organization and prayer, the shaker chairs were made so that when not in use, the chairs could be hung upside down on the pegboards creating more floor space. The chairs themselves, although simple, are examples of master woodworking. Each community had their own design for the finials. The more complex of the spectrum were from Mt. Lebanon, NY, with the simpler versions from the Cambridge, MA and Canterbury, NH communities. In many cases the finials tell the origin of the chairs. Some communities went as far as stamping the under portion of the chair with a simple mark to show that it was Shaker made. In the Canterbury community, the woodworkers would finish the chairs with small brass disks on the bottom of the feet to protect from heavy use.

    On the occasion that we have to work on them in the shop, we take a minimalist approach to the repair. We will first try to repair the piece with proper hide glue and clamping. once the repair is made, we use either natural pigments or waxes to tone out the damage. At times we go as afar as replicating some of the grains of the surrounding wood in order to make the lines from the crack invisible.  

    Often the seats of the Shaker Chair either rushed or shaker taped with caning seen less frequently . Shaker taping was a way of using a common everyday material (wool fabric) and using thin strips woven together to create a strong lasting seat. There are many different patterns that are seen such as the traditional checker board, diamond and hounds-tooth among others.

    Today, there are still living Shakers in the Sabbathday Community in Maine.








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