Anticipating modern-day advertisers by more than 100 years, the Shakers proudly promoted their wares to a marketplace of non-believers who were nevertheless poised to purchase quality furniture. As one of their early catalogs proclaimed, Shaker chairs offered "durability, simplicity, and lightness." The level of craftsmanship that they attained enabled them to back up their claims. Shaker-made chairs sold well, proving that their business acumen was as well developed as their piety.
The Shakers had astutely reasoned that chairs were the right product for the market. First, chairs needed relatively little stock to build—compared to case furniture—so they could be made economically. Furthermore, most models could be built quite quickly, and they were compact and light enough for easy storage and transportation. Finally, chairs are a common household item; most buyers required several. All of these factors enabled their chair-making enterprise to contribute significantly to Shaker prosperity.
This chapter presents step-by-step instructions for building three classic Shaker chairs. The Enfield side chair (page 26) features a simple design that belies the fine craftsmanship and precise joinery needed to build it. Its legs, rails, and stretch
ers are turned on the lathe, and the pieces are connected with to die tomorrow."
mortise-and-tenon joints. The chair back consists of slats that must be steam-bent. A traditional method for forming the chair seat—woven rush—is shown beginning on page 34. The alternative seat style illustrated in the photo at far left, using a tape upholstery material that the Shakers called listing, is explained starting on page 45.
With its turned parts and mortise-and-tenon joinery, the Mt. Lebanon-style rocking chair (page 38) shares many features with the Enfield. However, the rear legs of the rocker, which are bent for comfort, and the rockers themselves—fixed to the legs with dowel-reinforced bridle joints—are elegant refinements. The chair is named after the community in upstate New York where prototypes were built.
Despite its traditional use as a pew for religious purposes, the spindle-backed meetinghouse bench has many contemporary applications. The version shown on page 48 features a solid-wood seat with ample room for two or three users.
Each of these chairs—early examples of which are still intact today—embodies the Shaker belief once set forth by Mother Ann, founder of the sect: "Build as though you were to live for a thousand years, and as you would do if you knew you were
Blue and white cloth tape, or listing, is being woven between the rear legs of the rocker shown at left, providing a strong, attractive, and lightweight seat back. This rocker was finished with tungoil, then rubbed with blue-tinted beeswax to harmonize with the color of the listing.
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