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       The Shaker Legacy
       “Hands to work… Hearts to God”
       These notes will become part of a book on the Shakers. (Hand bound, 'one-of-a-kind' items) The focus of the book will be visual, not historical, so I will be brief here. In the Shaker village of Pleasant Hill , Kentucky, there is a plaque which says it all:
" Here is the story of the search for the perfect society by a devout and visionary people."
       Small wonder that Americans, to-day, reading "Bury my heart at Wounded Knee", about the slaughter of the Indian nations or watching the epic TV series "The Civil War" or even thinking about the conditions women faced in the 'Wild West', much less the child labour atrocities at the textile factories of Lowell, Massachusetts, could not but pay homage to 'The Shaker Legacy' in 19th century America. They love this way of life, perhaps more than the Shakers did.
       "Hands to work. Hearts to God" was the Shaker creed. All property was community owned.Almost everything they needed was grown or made on site. Women had equal rights with men. Men and women lived separately but in harmony. They believed in brotherhood and were pacifists. High ideals, indeed , for 19th century America.
       Apart from the community life they created, the Shakers 'Modern' outlook was unusual for a religious sect. They kept up with and worked ahead of current architectural design. They invented 'Seed Catalogues' and sold millions to their neighbours. The circular barn at Hancock Shaker village is one of the "Wonders of the Modern World". Their chairs were sold from catalogues and department stores in New York and Chicago. In 1880 you might have to pay $ 60 for 4 upholstered Shaker chairs. To-day they would fetch $ 60 thousand at auction. In the late 19th century their communities were prosperous by any standard.
       Their designs had what I call a "Mystic Simplicity". Chairs hung on wall pegs to facilitate floor space. Kitchen cabinets were 'built in'. ( Imagine !) Ovens were set into brick walls. 'Flat brooms' were made by hand. There was almost no end to the brilliance of these visionary people. But there was. Their 'Achilles Heel' was their founder , Mary Lee's edict of celibacy for the cult. When the converts and the orphans dried up, there was no way for the Shaker communities to survive.
       The villages are still there. I hope they will always be there to remind us that good things come at a price and that price is excellence and dedication. "The 'enemy of the best' is not the 'worst', it's the 'good enough". (Thank you, Voltaire)
       These images show three Shaker villages, still extant today:
Canterbury in New Hampshire (1792 - c. 1973) These black and white images depict the architecture and town planning of a typical Shaker village. Set in the scenic uplands of New Hampshire. Serves as a Museum and workshop sites.
Hancock in western Massachusetts (1790 - 1960) a wonderfully preserved 'Museum' site complete with herb and farm produce and authentic workshops. Most famous for the magnificent round barn. Images from colour slide film.
Pleasant Hill in north central Kentucky (1814 to 1910) a village that operates as a working 'Museum' complete with produce and workshops, a magnificent restaurant with Shaker recipes and overnight accommodations in original buildings. Images from colour slide film.

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