The New York State Museum will open a new major exhibition about the history and culture of the Shakers on November 15, 2014. The Shakers: America’s Quiet Revolutionaries will feature over 150 historic images and nearly 200 Shaker artifacts, including artifacts from three Shaker historical sites: the Shaker Heritage Society, Hancock Shaker Village and the Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon.
In the late 1700s, the Shakers sought religious freedom in America, but their unique culture and spiritual practices set them apart from society. Their devotional routines as well as their product innovations and views towards gender equality seemed revolutionary.
Open through March 6, 2016, the 7,000 square foot exhibition explores the Shakers as one of the most significant and influential communal religious groups in American history. A two-minute video trailer for the exhibition is available on YouTube.
“This expansive exhibition, in addition to a variety of public educational programs and online resources, offers visitors a unique opportunity to learn about the history and lasting influence of the Shakers,” State Museum Director Mark Schaming said in an announcement for the exhibit.
Thematically divided into six areas, the exhibition shows how the Shakers’ unique model of an equal society challenged the norms of the “outside world”:
- Settlement in America, 1774–1787 – explores the beginnings of the Shaker society, including their journey to America and their establishment at Niskayuna (Albany), Mother Ann Lee’s missionary travels, and the efforts of the first Shakers to grow their numbers and establish the first communities.
- Shaker Theology and Religious Practice – explores the central beliefs of the Shakers. Drawing upon the words of the Shakers themselves, visitors will learn how Shakers worship not only within the Meetinghouse, but through tasks performed in their everyday lives.
- Spreading the Faith, Keeping Union – documents the first attempt to replicate the Shaker communities at Watervliet and Mount Lebanon (later expanding to 19 major communities nationwide).
- Shaker Made: Agriculture and Industry – highlights four major industries of the Shakers: broom making, garden seeds, medicines and chairs. This section also explores how the Shakers used their products and reputation for honest business practices to present a “brand” to potential converts.
- Comfortable Shaker Home: Being a Shaker – explores the concept of family, as defined by the Shakers, including the care of children, the elderly and the disabled, as well as gender relations.
- Enduring Design: The Shaker Influence on Art and Design – shows how Shaker design influenced artists and designers around the world up through the present day.
The exhibition is presented by the New York State Museum in collaboration with the Shaker Heritage Society, Hancock Shaker Village, Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, the New York State Library and the New York State Archives. Additional support for the exhibition is provided by the Albany County Convention and Visitors Bureau and RBC Wealth Management.
The State Museum is planning a variety of programs to complement the exhibition, including lectures, guided tours and educational activities for children and families. More information about the exhibition can be found at the exhibition website.
The New York State Museum is located on Madison Avenue in Albany. The Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Admission is free. Further information about programs and events can be obtained by calling (518) 474-5877 or visiting the Museum website at www.nysm.nysed.gov.
Illustrations: “Their Mode of Worship”, Lithograph (D. W. Kellogg and Co., ca. 1840; NYS Museum); Anna Case and girls shucking corn (New York State Museum); and “Portrait of Sisters Sadie Neale, Emma Neale and Alice Carrie Wade” (Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon).