Shaker Vision: Seeing Beauty in Early America
University of Massachusetts Press
The Shakers are known for self-denial and austerity in everyday living and their material world, as embodied by the heavenly simplicity and purity of their chairs and blanket chests. Yet the believers also enjoyed a diversity of visual pleasures, from flowers, sunsets, rainbows, and the northern lights as seen at home to waterfalls, ocean waves, and dramatic cliffs viewed while traveling across America.
In Shaker Vision, Joseph Manca explores original texts, especially diaries and travel journals, and material culture to demonstrate that Shakers enjoyed a remarkably deep experience of the visual world. Shakers shared tastes with mainstream Americans and often employed a similar aesthetic vocabulary, but all within a belief system that made them distinct. In addition to their well-known ascetic architecture, furniture, and handicraft styles, they expressed themselves through ornate and detailed spiritual art and in vivid, visionary experiences. Based on firsthand accounts of the believers themselves, this richly illustrated volume will dramatically change how we assess the visual world of this uniquely American religious sect.