Shaker furniture is unsurpassed in its purity and craftsmanship. An exhibition of the Protestant sect’s work is on display now through Fall 2017 at the Art Institute in Chicago titled “Shakers and Movers: Selections from the Collection of Dr. Thomas and Jan Pavlovic.” The Shakers followed a humble lifestyle, practicing Christ-like purity; their beliefs are echoed in their minimalist designs. Reducing design to its most simplified form was considered an act of piety.
A delightful group of pieces from the Shakers and Movers exhibit
The Shaker’s did not use any ornamentation or veneers and exclusively used local woods such as pine, maple and cherry. Any manipulation of the wood was considered a dishonest representation. At Maxine Snider Inc, we constantly find inspiration from Shaker design philosophy, using natural materials and hand craftsmanship to find purity without compromising a dreamy style.
Shaker chair, early 1800s
Most of all, the Shakers considered work to be an act of worship. The precise methods used to make their furniture were a type of meditation for them. John Baker, co-founder of Möelk, a store specializing in selling Shaker style furniture in Toronto remarks, “It’s an idea that’s as old as religion-making these grand gestures, like a fresco or a big painting on the ceiling of a church. The Shakers were amazing because we can look at this on a domestic scale.” It is the same braid of divinity that runs through the Sistine Chapel and the Shaker chair: one we recognize for its grandeur and awe, the other we cherish for it steadfast humility.
Shaker side table, late 1870s
Shaker women, early 1900s
Renewed interest in the classic Shaker aesthetic has flared up due to recent popularity of Danish Modernist styles in the design community. Danish Modernists incorporated Shaker minimalism as well as multi-functionality into their pieces. The combination of design purity and usability enhance the material expression of the furniture; we can read these pieces as refined constructions as well as perfectly functional objects. The Shaker classic slatted chair backs, for instance, are designed to be hung up when not in use to conserve space. This construction saves material and enhances both the visual and tactile lightness of the chairs, owing to the fact that function and beauty are in the best cases inseparable.
Kaaer Klint’s church chair, 1936
We would like to tip our hats to Danish modernist furniture designer, Kaare Klint, whose work perfectly compliments that of the exhibit. Klint was able to draw from Shaker ideals while retaining a stylized construction defined by local craft. We find kindred spirits in the Shakers and Klint as we continually strive to marry the best of functional style with high-quality Chicago craft.