SPOTLIGHT: June 1, 2023

Shaker Sewing Desk, 1860s

Shaker craft reflects the teachings of their founder and leader, Mother Ann Lee (1736 –1784). She believed that working with one’s hands was a form of worship and instilled the mantra, “Hands to work and hearts to God,” in Shaker community members. Their design approach rejects surface decoration in favor of values inherent in the harmonious relation of the individual parts and the perfected unity of the whole. This sewing desk built by Brother Freegift Wells is no exception. It was made in the Watervliet, New York community, the location of the first Shaker settlement and Mother Ann Lee’s final resting place.

Mother Ann Lee led a small group of seven followers from their native England to the American Colonies with the intent of establishing an ideal form of religious communal society after having divine visions of the pilgrimage. In 1776, two years after their emigration to the U.S., the group established the first Shaker settlement in Niskayuna (now Watervliet), New York. The group called themselves the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, or “Believers” for short. They became better known as the “Shaking Quakers” and then the “Shakers,” a name describing their behavior during worship services, in which they would ecstatically shake in a sort of ceremonial dance.

Freegift Wells
Shaker Sewing Desk, 1860s
Cherry, pine, and poplar secondary woods, ceramic lock plates