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Shaker Museum & Library
Shaker Museum Road
Old Chatham, New York
Phone: 518-794-9100 --
Statement of Purpose:
The mission of the Shaker Museum and Library is to utilize its
unparalleled collection to educate people about the history, values, and
craftsmanship of the United Society of Believers within the wider context of
Set amidst rolling farmland in New York's Columbia County, this premier Shaker
collection will draw you into a world of grace and devotion. The Shaker values of
hard work and excellence produced extraordinary objects and industries. At the
Shaker Museum and Library, the Shaker experiment is presented through an
unparalleled collection, assembled with the help of the Shakers themselves. In 24
galleries, you will see an intimate view of oval boxes, baskets, furniture
masterpieces, ingenious tools, and machinery that reflect the "order, harmony, and
utility" of one if the most influential American design traditions. While at the
Museum, enjoy a snack and browse in the Museum Shop.
SHAKER MUSEUM and LIBRARY
The Shaker Museum and Library is located on 48 acres of rolling hills in Northern
Columbia County. With over 17,000 objects and 18,500 archival items, SM&L is
widely considered the premier study collection of the Shakers. The Museum is
dedicated to interpreting and reconstructing Shaker life, gender roles, industry, and
invention within the wider context of American history.
The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, more commonly
known as the Shakers, was founded by Ann Lee, who came to America from
England in 1774 to escape religious persecution. She and others formed a model
society where men and women would work and worship in peace, humility, order
and harmony. Their motto "hearts to work and hands to God" is reflected in the
level of craftsmanship, ingenuity, and simplicity the Shakers brought to everything
they created from furniture and textiles, to decorative arts, tools and equipment,
poplarware and other crafts.
In the nineteenth century, the Shakers became one of the most successful utopian
societies in the history of the United States, establishing 19 communities from
Maine to Kentucky. After the Civil War, their numbers began to dwindle, and as
Shaker communities began to close, many became concerned that their cultural
legacy would be lost to future generations. John S. Williams, Sr. founded the
Shaker Museum in 1950 with the cooperation of the Shaker leadership. The
Museum exhibits and preserves his outstanding collection of Shaker furniture,
decorative arts, baskets, farm tools, craft machinery, textiles, spirit drawings and
personal artifacts used and created by this society. Since its founding, the Shaker
Museum and Library has evolved into a highly regarded cultural organization,
known for its commitment to intellectual integrity and scholarship. Viewed as an
important and lively center of community activity and education, the museum
attracts 16,000 visitors annually.
Highlights & Collections:
In 1972, the Shaker Museum was accredited by the American Association of
Museums and in 1986 was named a "Primary Organization" by the New York
State Council on the Arts. In 1996, New York State honored the Museum with a
Why I Love NY Award, naming it one of the 12 most extraordinary museums in
the State. Museum facilities include: the Museum and Craft Buildings, which
feature 22 exhibition galleries; the Education Building/Gallery for special programs
and temporary exhibitions; the Murray B. Douglas Study Storage Center, housing
many of our finest pieces of furniture and woodenware; the Emma B. King
Library, with manuscripts and archival materials; the Shaker Schoolhouse, set
amidst a lovely herb garden; an 1840s farmhouse used as the Administration
Building; the Museum Shop; the Maintenance Building; storage buildings and
The Shaker Museum displays the diversity of Shaker genius. Their tools and
machinery as well as their furniture, oval boxes, baskets, buckets, and stoves
provide extraordinary examples of beauty achieved through functional simplicity.
The same fine craftsmanship extends to wood and iron working tools, farm
equipment, sewing implements, looms, and other objects used in daily life. All of
the major Shaker industries are represented: broom and chair manufacturing,
cloak making, garden seeds, and pharmaceuticals. The Shaker Museum and
Library's collection includes many examples of Shaker inventiveness: a seven-ton
double trip-hammer from Mount Lebanon, NY; a horse-drawn fire engine form
Canterbury, NH; the first tongue and groove machine invented in 1828; and the
patented washing machine from Canterbury, NH, that won a Gold Medal at the
Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876.
In 1997, the Shaker Museum and Library opened a new
From sewing desks, counters and cupboards, to woodworking tools and looms,
Orren Haskins of the Mount Lebanon Shaker community was the consummate
Shaker craftsman. Considered one of the finest master cabinetmakers in Shaker
history, Haskins' life spans the peak of Shaker activity and the height of classical
Shaker design and craftsmanship. This first of its kind exhibition will feature a
selection of 25 objects made by the Mount Lebanon Shaker craftsman between
1833 and 1890. Objects will be curated from the Shaker Museum and Library's
collection and others will be on loan from public and private lenders. The
exhibition's curator Erin M. Budis will contextualize Haskins' furniture, tools and
textile equipment within the larger framework of Shaker studies, nineteenth
century American history and American furniture design. An exhibition catalogue
will accompany the show, and the Museum will host educational programs and a
lecture series on Shaker history, design and craftsmanship.
- Orren Haskins, Shaker Cabinetmaker.
The Emma B. King Library, named for the Shaker Eldress who transferred the
major remaining Shaker archive to the Shaker Museum Foundation in 1962,
contains 40 linear feet of manuscripts including over 150 diaries and journals, 45
covenants from 12 communities, 50 volumes of music, 150 volumes of inspired
visions in addition to financial records, deeds, maps, and legal records, theological
essays and correspondence. The library collection also includes 300 Shaker
publications, 500 tracts and catalogues, 23,000 labels, maps, broadsides and
serials. The historic photograph collection includes over 3,000 cabinet photos,
carte d'visite, stereoviews, postcards and snapshots from c. 1869 to the present,
and including material from all Shaker sites.
Exhibits & Special Events:
Open late April to early November from 10-5. Closed Tuesdays.
Holiday Shopping and Polar Bear Tours, November and December, Fridays
through Sundays 12-4:30 PM, Polar Bear Tours at 2 PM.
The Shaker Museum and Library Gift Shop overflows with items for sale inclusing Shaker oval boxes, baskets, chair kits and tape, cards, herbs, food and books on a range of Shaker topics. For information on Shop sales or to receive a free
catalog please call us.
Admission & Directions:
Membership: Benefits include free admission, Shop discount, newsletter, and
invitations to special events. For information on membership please call (518)
794-9100, ext. 100.
- Adults $6,
- Seniors $5,
- ages 8-17 $3,
- under 8 free.
From New York City: Taconic Parkway north to Rt. 295 exit, right on Rt. 295,
left at East Chatham Post Office. In Old Chatham follow County 13 one mile west
to Shaker Museum Road.
From Albany and NY Thruway: I-90 to exit 11E, right on US 20, right on Rt.
66 south near Brainard. At Malden Bridge turn left, then turn right onto Shaker
From Boston: Mass Pike to B2 exit, left on Rt. 295, left at East Chatham Post
Office. In Old Chatham follow County 13 one mile west to Shaker Museum Road.
Ministry Dinning Room
exhibit inside SM&L's Main Exhibition building. The collection pieces are from the Northeast Shaker communities and date prior to 1850.
On display inside SM&L's Main Exhibition building. Photo credit: Paul Rocheleau.
Key Personnel:Mary Ellen W. Hern, Executive Director
- Harriet Barber, Volunteer Coordinator
- Erin Budis, Collections Manager
- Jerry Grant, Senior Research Advisor
- Joanne Hurlbut, Educator
- Susan Linton, Financial and Store Manager
- Virginia Mcewen, Librarian
- Barbara Romberger, Supervisor of Visitor Services
- Jeffry Westover, Facilities Manager
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