Shaker Books - A Basic Shaker Reading List
Shaker Workshops recommends the following books as the core of a well stocked library on the Shakers. Click on the thumbnail images to order.
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Shaker History and Biography
Edward Deming Andrews, The People Called Shakers.
The first modern history of the Shakers, written by the Yale University professor who “discovered” the Shakers, their furniture, music, art, and industries and spent 35 years reading original Shaker manuscripts and other primary sources, as well as interviewing the then-living Shakers. At the time, it was the most thorough history of the sect. Includes the often-quoted “Millennial Laws” of 1845, which are “must reading”. 351 pages; 33 illustrations; appendixes; source notes; index. First published 1953. Paperback.
Priscilla J. Brewer, Shaker Communities, Shaker Lives.
Brewer draws from sociology, statistics, social history, and cultural history to provide a well-reasoned, thoroughly researched analysis of the dynamics of the growth and decline of the Eastern Shaker communities during the 19th century. Journal entries, letters, and other personal records provide a clear and unromantic picture of the daily lives of the Shakers. 293 pages; 12 illustrations; 25 tables; appendixes; source notes; extensive bibliography; index. First published 1986. Paperback.
Frances A. Carr, Growing Up Shaker.
Sister Frances A. Carr arrived at the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community in the late 1930’s as a young girl at the age of 10. Today, she is the leader of the Shaker Community. In this book, Sister Frances relives incidents that happened from the day she arrived until she signed the Shaker Covenant at age 21. A rich personal account of 20th century Shaker life with material and photographs available nowhere else. 133 pages; 33 illustrations; map; no index. First published 1994. Paperback.
Flo Morse, The Shakers and the World’s People.
In this unique volume, short excerpts from writings of the Shakers and of the world’s people about the Shakers, together with contemporary illustrations, present a vivid portrait of Shaker life and its place in two centuries of American history. Even the most knowledgeable Shaker enthusiast will find something new in this well-edited and diverse collection of documentary material. 399 pages; 89 illustrations; 19 figures; map; chronological bibliography; index. First published 1980. Paperback.
Stephen J. Stein,The Shaker Experience in America: A History of the United Society of Believers .
Described as the “definitive history” of the people known as the “United Society of Believers in the First and Second Coming of Christ”-the Shakers, this work has indeed stood the test of time. Dr. Stein, a professor at Indiana University, systematically covers the full range of Shaker experience-from East to West, from 1774 through the 20th century. It is a major work-stunning in its sweep and comprehensiveness. If your library has room for only one history of the Shakers, this is it. 554 pages; 54 illustrations & maps; source notes; index. First published 1992. Paperback.
Glendyne R. Wergland, One Shaker Life: Isaac Newton Youngs, 1793-1865 .
Brother Isaac Newton Youngs spent nearly his entire life in the Shaker community at New Lebanon, New York. As a carpenter, cabinetmaker, clock and watch-maker, he was a mechanical genius, but he was not without doubts about himself and his life as a Shaker. Wergland draws on Youngs’s own writings to tell his story and to explore “the tension between desire and discipline” at the center of his life. An intimate and frankly honest insight into the realities of being a Shaker man in the 19th century. 247 pages; illustrations; source notes; index. First published 2006. Paperback.
Robert P. Emlen, Shaker Village Views: Illustrated Maps and Landscape Drawings by Shaker Artists of the Nineteenth Century.
For the first time ever, all known maps and landscape drawings made by Shaker artists of the 19th century are brought together in one book. Emlen’s groundbreaking work is a critical catalog of these views, many never before published, which form an artistic genre with no exact equivalent in the history of American art. Includes an appendix detailing all known 19th century Shaker village views by non-Shaker commercial artists. 208 pages; 148 illustrations (28 in color); source notes; index. First published 1987. Paperback.
Julie Nicoletta, with photography by Bret Morgan, The Architecture of the Shakers.
Shaker architecture reflects the complexities of a society that sought to reconcile its rigorous faith with the demands of daily life in a rapidly changing world. For architects, designers, builders, curators, and collectors, this is the first book to document with professional color images the functional beauty of the Shaker legacy. Design, construction, and materials are explored, with many detailed exterior and interior views. 175 pages; map; notes; extensive bibliography; index. First published 1995. Hardcover.
Henry Plummer, Stillness and Light: The Silent Eloquence of Shaker Architecture.
Plummer, an architect and photographer, has spent his career exploring the many innovative ways that natural light has been used to enliven and give meaning to architecture. In this book, he focuses on the use of natural light in Shaker architecture, noting that Shaker builders manipulated light not only for practical reasons of illumination, but also to sculpt a deliberately spiritual, visual presence within their spaces. A stunning new look at Shaker design and craftsmanship. 152 pages; 124 color photos; index. First published 2009. Hardcover.
Herbert F. Schiffer, Shaker Architecture.
A compilation of Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) measured drawings and archival photographs of Shaker sites throughout the United States. HABS was originally a WPA program for unemployed architects, draftsmen, and photographers, so the quality of both the drawings and photographs is really excellent. The material is organized by Shaker village, with particular emphasis placed on the Watervliet and Mt. Lebanon, New York communities. 190 pages; 282 black & white photographs; index. First published 1979. Paperback.
Frances A. Carr, Shaker Your Plate: Of Shaker Cooks and Cooking.
“What is Shaker cooking?” asks Sister Frances Carr. “Basically it is plain, wholesome food well prepared.” Collected and perfected during her thirty years in the kitchen of the Shaker Community at Sabbathday Lake, Maine, these recipes are easy to follow. The results show that interesting and tasty Shaker food need not be complicated. Indeed, like Shaker furniture, these recipes are simple but artful. With suggestions for using Shaker culinary herbs. 154 pages; 71 drawings; index. First published 1985. Paperback.
James Haller, Cooking in the Shaker Spirit.
The qualities that make Shaker cooking uniquely American are its convenience, its simplicity, and its adaptability. In this cookbook, the authors use all the foodstuffs the Shakers used, but have tried them in new and innovative ways, with one foot in today, one in the old-time spirit of Shaker inventiveness and progress. Those who see cooking not as following a recipe, but as understanding a concept, will discover that there certainly is a Shaker concept of cooking—a Shaker “cuisine”. 240 pages; index. First published 2006. Paperback.
Bertha Lindsay, Seasoned With Grace: My Generation of Shaker Cooking.
Through this comprehensive selection of recipes derived from oral tradition, manuscript sources, and the “World”, Eldress Bertha Lindsay (1897-1990), assisted by historian Mary Rose Boswell, offers both a firsthand look at the Shaker way of life in the Canterbury, New Hampshire community and also a wonderful selection of authentic kitchen-tested Shaker recipes (be sure to try the Rose Water Apple Pie). 161 pages; 32 photographs; notes; bibliography; index of ingredients; index. First published 1987. Paperback.
Shaker Furniture and Decorative Arts
Edward Deming Andrews and Faith Andrews, Shaker Furniture: The Craftsmanship of an American Communal Sect .
The Shakers’ simplified, original style of furniture was first documented in this critically important work. The authors visited more active Shaker villages and knew more Shakers firsthand than any other scholars of the 20th century. Photographs in the half-deserted Shaker buildings at the Mt. Lebanon, New York Shaker community and detailed descriptions of the furniture have formed the basis for all subsequent Shaker scholarship. 133 pages; 48 black & white photographs; appendix (with Shaker paint recipes); index. First published 1937. Paperback.
Christian Becksvoort, The Shaker Legacy: Perspectives on an Enduring Furniture Style.
Becksvoort, a talented and experienced furniture maker, brings a fresh perspective on the Shakers and their furniture. His insights on the Shakers, past and present, and on Shaker design, both as an expression of faith and as an influence on Scandinavian and American furniture makers, represent the best work that a new generation of Shaker scholars has brought to the field. His commentary on the more than 140 classic Shaker pieces, both furniture and built-in cupboards (many never previously photographed for publication and all shown in full color), will be of interest to collectors and scholars alike. 233 pages; index. First published 1998. Paperback.
Jean M. Burks, Editor, Shaker Design: Out of This World.
Burks has called on the substantial talents of Robert P. Emlen, M. Stephen Miller, Jean M. Humez, Gerard C. Wertkin, Sumpter Priddy and Kory Rogers-all authorities in various Shaker fields-to assist her in examining the cultural and societal context for Shaker design in a series of illustrated essays and creating what is probably the most comprehensive Shaker exhibit catalog ever produced. An interesting underlying subtext throughout the book is the “complexity of simplicity”, supporting the idea that Shaker design is intentional, not accidental. 245 pages; 100 photographs; notes; bibliography; index. First published 2008. Hard cover.
Beverly Gordon, Shaker Textile Arts.
The most striking thing about Shaker textiles is their sense of order, achieved through a structural rather than a decorative design. Gordon, an experienced craftsperson and teacher, presents a comprehensive book on the kinds of textiles the Shakers produced, both for their own use (clothing, rugs, Shaker chair tape, etc.) and for sale to the “world” (poplar sewing boxes and “fancy goods”). 343 pages; 153 photographs; drafts and patterns for original Shaker handwoven rugs and chair tapes; notes; bibliography; index. First published 1980. Paperback.
Timothy D. Rieman and Jean M. Burks, The Complete Book of Shaker Furniture.
First published 1993. Hard cover.
June Sprigg, Shaker Design.
228 pages. First published 1988. Paperback.
Martha Wetherbee and Nathan Taylor Shaker Baskets.
First published 1988. Paperback
Shaker Herbs and Gardening
Galen Beale and Mary Rose Boswell, The Earth Shall Blossom: Shaker Herbs and Gardening.
This book focuses on the Shakers’ extensive involvement with herbs, both medicinal and culinary, from the 19th century to the present time. It provides advice on designing your own historically accurate Shaker herb garden and documents many Shaker medicinal herbal cures. With Shaker herbal recipes for kitchen, bath, and parlor. 264 pages; checklists of medicinal herb catalogs and seed catalogs; source notes; bibliography; index. First published 1991. Paperback.
Amy Bess Miller, Shaker Medicinal Herbs: A Compendium of History, Lore, and Uses.
By drawing on the Native Americans’ knowledge of herbs and roots, and by keeping extensive medical records, the early Shakers learned how to maintain good health through the use of herbs. In the 19th century, demand for their herbs led them to become the first large-scale producers of herbs in the U.S. for the pharmaceutical market. Miller documents the extensive Shaker herb industry to the present day, village by village. Most important is a detailed guide to over 350 herbs the Shakers have used, along with their major healing principles. 224 pages; botanical index; index. First published 1998. Hard cover.
M. Stephen Miller From Shaker Lands and Shaker Hands: A Survey of the Industries.
Until the publication of this book, scant attention has been paid to the vibrant economic life needed to support the Shakers’ communal way of life. In fact, each community engaged in a broad range of commercial activities, astutely marketing not only the products of their farms and craft shops, but also establishing a level of quality widely associated with the word “Shaker.” documents the surprising breadth and depth of the industries pursued by the Shaker communities, from the well-known Shaker chairs to seeds, herbal medicines, textiles, and foodstuffs. 208 pages; index. First published 2007. Paperback.
Christian Goodwillie, Shaker Songs: A Celebration of Peace, Harmony, and Simplicity.
There are nearly 1,000 known manuscript songbooks that contain the collective creative and and spriritual energy of the many who have embraced Shakerism since its arrival in America in 1774. This compendium of radiant, heart-rousing hymns will serve to further some of the messages of love and equality so important to the Shakers then and now. 128 pages; 53 Shaker song transcriptions with commentary, illustrations, and sources; includes a beautiful full-length CD with 28 songs from the book. Published 2002. Hardcover.
Daniel W. Patterson, The Shaker Spiritual.
Between 1780 and 1870, the Shakers created an enormous body of spirituals-perhaps as many as 10,000. The 366 presented here comprise the largest collection every published. Dr. Patterson, a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, working entirely with primary source material, describes the institutional basis for each song, reconstructs and diagrams 20 Shaker dances and marches, and provides a checklist of 800 Shaker song manuscripts, with an explanation of the 9 forms of musical notation found in them. 562 pages; 64 illustrations; source notes; index of first lines and titles; index. First published 1979. Second, corrected edition. Paperback.
Other Books About the Shakers
Murray, Stuart Shaker Heritage Guidebook: Exploring the Historic Sites. Museums & Collections. Spencertown, NY: Golden Hill Press, Inc., 1994
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