Masterworks of Shaker Design: Mount Lebanon, NY

Masterworks of Shaker Design: Mount Lebanon, NY
 Masterworks of Shaker Design: Mount Lebanon, NY,


Masterworks of Shaker Design: Mount Lebanon, NY

For the second exhibition in the series Masterworks of Shaker Design, the community of Mount Lebanon, New York, was chosen for several reasons. This was the first Shaker community to be “gathered into order.” As such, this was the first fully organized village dedicated to the principles of Shakerism: confession of sins (in private, to an elder or eldress), communal ownership of all goods and property, and celibacy. In addition, the full equality of men and women, acceptance of all races and creeds, and pacificism were foundational tenets.

In 1774, a small band of Believers who dissented from the established Church of England sailed from England to New York City, in the English colony of New York. They were led by an illiterate, but charismatic woman named Ann Lee; later called “Mother Ann.” Within a few years, the group established a foothold in a swampy area near Schenectady, New York, called Niskeyuna (later, Watervliet). They began proselytizing from this modest base and, by the mid-1780s, more than one hundred converts committed to their gospel message. Soon after, several adjacent farms in the area of the town called New Lebanon, New York, were consolidated into a single site. In 1787, this became the Shaker Community of New Lebanon.

From the start, and until the mid-20th Century, New (Mount) Lebanon was the seat of authority, sometimes referred to as the Central Ministry, for the entire movement. The Shaker Society eventually included eighteen long-lasting villages, stretching from Maine to Kentucky. This leadership role is a second reason for selecting New Lebanon as the focus for this exhibition. Finally, as a result of its size, at one time housing more than six-hundred members, and its relatively late date of closure, 1947, more artifacts have survived from here than from any other Shaker village.

The overarching goal of this series at the NBMAA is to bring to our visitors examples of the finest objects of Shaker design and craftsmanship. The choice of materials from Mount Lebanon (whose name changed from New Lebanon when the community was granted their own post office in 1861) is daunting. The criteria considered were quality, uniqueness, and the fact that the object had not previously been included in an exhibition, especially at the NBMAA.

The NBMAA is grateful to the following lenders to this exhibition: Martin Kline, Darlene and George Kohrman, Dr. Don G. Wartella, John Keith Russell, and one private collector. We extend a special thank you to the Shaker Museum, Chatham, New York, Lacy Schutz, Executive Director, and Jerry Grant, Director of Collections and Research. They have been gracious institutional partners in this exhibition.

-M. Stephen Miller, Guest Curator


Related Programming 

Gallery Talk | M. Stephen Miller, Guest Curator of Masterworks of Shaker Design: Mount Lebanon, NY
Wednesday, September 13, 1 p.m.