Form and function shown in Shaker woodenware exhibit
Shaker-made oval carrier is part of the exhibit at New Britain Museum of American Art.

Photo By New Britain Museum of American Art

NEW BRITAIN, CONN. -- The New Britain Museum of American Art is currently exhibiting the second installment of Shaker furniture and crafts since the Shaker Gallery opened in early 2015. Focus On: Shaker Woodenware (Part 1), from the collection of Steve and Miriam Miller, shows the highest quality of Shaker-crafted woodenware from communities in New York and New England.

Shaker furniture and woodenware were crafted with careful thought in a minimalist style. For example, when creating their signature oval boxes, the Shakers would soften wood in boiling water in order to bend it to the desired shape, fastening the sides with clinched copper tacks to secure the sides.

Their important innovation here was to carve the edges of these sides into a finger-like design, allowing the wood to expand and contract without buckling. Objects such as these are fashioned with form and function in mind, rather than visual aesthetic and extravagance, using well-seasoned woods and typically eliminating any ornate or extraneous features.

Several objects in this collection, including a cherry work box, select rectangular boxes, the four “fancy pails,” among others, were made at the peak of Shaker growth in the mid-1800s. Other objects in the exhibition, created during the late-1800s to the mid-1900s, reveal the same level of thoughtful execution.

The exhibition includes a variety of carefully constructed sewing spools, oval boxes, poplarware fancy goods, carriers, yarn swifts, and much more. Some of these objects were made for sale to the outside world, while the rest were for the Shakers’ own use. The exhibit is on view in the M. Stephen and Miriam R. Miller Gallery through August 27, 2017. Part 2, a continuation of this exhibition, will follow beginning in early September, 2017. See


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Karl Forth

Karl D. Forth is online editor for CCI Media. He also writes news and feature stories in FDMC Magazine, in addition to newsletters and custom publishing projects. He is also involved in event organization, and compiles the annual FDM 300 list of industry leaders. He can be reached at [email protected].