Shaking Off Ornamentation with Honesty Utility and Simplicity

"The guiding Shaker principles of honesty, utility, and simplicity found expression in various crafts: furniture, boxes, and textiles made by the Shakers are renowned for their minimalist design and unstinting quality. Rejecting excessive ornament because it ostensibly encouraged the sin of pride...."    

-The Metropolitan Museum of Art,  http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/shak/hd_shak.htm

Produced by the Shakers at the chair factory in Mount Lebanon, New York under the direction of Brother William Perkins and Sister Lilian Barlow.  Circa 1925.

Produced by the Shakers at the chair factory in Mount Lebanon, New York under the direction of Brother William Perkins and Sister Lilian Barlow.  Circa 1925.

"We want a good plain substantial article, yea, one that bears credit to our profession and tells who and what we are, true and honest before the world, without hypocrisy or any faults covering.  The world at large can scarcely keep pace with it self with its stiles and fasshions which last out a short time, when something still more worthless and absurd takes its place, let good enough alone."   -Brother Orren Haskings

 

This beautifully simple chair clearly shares DNA with the famous Chiavari chair made in Northern Italy and its progeny, the Superleggera.  Maybe all of these well known chairs look similar because they were designed with the common values of utility and simplicity.   This points to the shared beliefs of Shakers and Modernists like Mies van der Rohe and Buckminster Fuller as well as practitioners of Japanese traditional design.   This disparate group of artists and craftspeople in different eras all found sacred inspiration in their mission to remove the unnecessary.

These chairs are not being made in the quantities they once were.  The Shakers are a celibate lot so their numbers have diminished to just a few people and the Chiavari chair was succeeded by Michael Thonet's  brilliantly simple No 14 Chair. over a century ago.   The characters keep changing but the undeniable virtue of simplicty lives on.