Shaker Poplarware

Poplarware is a term first used by the Shakers in the second half of the 19th century to describe the decorative boxes that they produced and covered with cloth woven of very thin poplar wood strips. The poplarware industry began at the Mt. Lebanon, New York Shaker community, then spread to the Alfred and Sabbathday Lake, Maine communites, then to the Canterbury and Enfield, New Hampshire communities. The last Shaker poplarware was produced by Sister Bertha Lindsay at Canterbury Shaker Village in the 1960’s.

In the years following the American Civil War (1861-1865), Shaker communities were affected not only by a decline in the success of the brothers’ industries, but also by a dramatic decline in the brethren’s membership. The sisters responded by commercializing some of their skills, particularly in textiles and baskets, and inventing a new product line they called “fancy work” or “fancy goods”—chiefly the manufacture of decorative boxes (primarily sewing boxes) that the Shakers called “poplarware.”

Some people are surprised at the decorative nature of poplarware, compared to the work of Shaker hands in the first half of the 19th century. Although the Shakers lived in communities apart from “the World,” the Shaker craft tradition was not unaffected by worldly taste. In fact, Shaker fancy goods were a response to the changing taste of the Victorian era, but always tempered by the older Shaker ideals of simplicity and utility.

The images of Shaker poplarware on this web site are provided by Shaker Workshops for personal study, research, and teaching. They are organized by Shaker village and, within villages, by date. To view larger images of the poplarware, please click on the thumbnail images below.

Alfred Shaker Village, Alfred, Maine

Bifold Poplarware Box from Alfred Shaker Village Bifold Poplarware Box from Alfred Shaker Village Bifold Poplarware Box from Alfred Shaker Village
Bifold Poplarware Box
10 1/2” x 7” x 2 1/2” high
Bifold Poplarware Box
7 1/2” x 5 1/2” x 2” high
Bifold Poplarware Box
7 3/4” x 5 3/4” x 2” high

Poplarware Work Casket from Alfred Shaker Village Poplarware Work Casket from Alfred Shaker Village Poplarware Work Casket from Alfred Shaker Village
Poplarware Work Casket
4 5/8” x 3 3/8” x 2 1/4” high
Poplarware Work Casket
7 1/8” x 4 5/8” x 4” high
Poplarware Work Casket
8 1/2” x 5 1/2” x 4 1/4” high

Canterbury Shaker Village, Canterbury, New Hampshire

Enfield Shaker Village, Enfield, New Hampshire

Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village (Church Family), Mt. Lebanon, New York

Brown Ash Oval Carrier from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village Brown Ash Oval Carrier from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village Poplarware Oval Carrier from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village
Brown Ash Oval Carrier
20 5/8” x 14 1/8” x 12 3/4” high
Brown Ash Oval Carrier
13” x 9 1/2” x 8 1/2” high
Poplarware Oval Carrier
19 7/8” x 13 3/8” x 10 1/2” high

Oval Work Stand from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village Oval Work Stand from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village Oval Work Stand from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village
Oval Work Stand
8 3/4” x 5 3/4” x 4 1/8” high
Oval Work Stand
9” x 5 3/8” x 4 1/4” high
Oval Work Stand
10” x 7” x 4 1/2” high

Poplarware Drawer Box from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village Poplarware Hatpin Cushion from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village Palm Leaf Cuff Box from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village
Poplarware Drawer Box
6” x 3 1/2” x 7 1/8” high
Poplarware Hatpin Cushion
4” x 4” high x 2” high
Palm Leaf Cuff Box
4” diameter x 4” high

Diamond-shaped PoplarwareBasket from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village Small Poplarware Work Box from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village Poplarware Stud Box from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village
Diamond-shaped Basket
3 3/8” x 3” x 3 1/4” high
Small Poplarware Work Box
4” x 2 3/4” x 1 3/4” high
Poplarware Stud Box
2 1/2 ” x 2 1/2” x 1 5/8” high

Poplarware Jewel Tray from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village Heart-shaped Poplarware Work Box from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village Heart-shaped Poplarware Work Box from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village
Poplarware Jewel Tray
7 3/8” x 5” x 1 3/8” high
Heart-shaped Work Box
4 3/4” x 4” x 2 1/4” high
Heart-shaped Work Box
5” x 4” x 2 1/8” high

Oblong Work Box from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village Square Work Box from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village Square Poplarware Work Box from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village
Rectangular Work Box
9 1/8” x 4” x 2” high
Square Poplarware Work Box
3” x 3” x 2 1/2” high
Square Poplarware Work Box
3 ” x 3” x 2 1/2” high

Jewel Box from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village Pine Handkerchief Box Form from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village Pine Jewel Box Form from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village
Poplarware Jewel Box
4 1/2” x 4 1/2” x 2 1/4” high
Pine Handkerchief Box Form
6” x 6” x 2 1/2” high
Pine Jewel Box Form
2 7/8” x 2 7/8” x 2” high

Pine Jewel Box Form from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village Pine Jewel Box Form from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village Pine Jewel Box Form from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village
Pine Jewel Box Form
3 1/2” x 3 1/2” x 2 1/4” high
Pine Jewel Box Form
3 5/8” x 3 5/8” x 2 1/4” high
Pine Jewel Box Form
4 3/4” x 4 3/4” x 2 1/4” high

Needle Case from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village Needle Case from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village Needle Case from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village
Poplarware Needle Case
2 7/8” x 2 3/8” x 1/8” thick
Poplarware Needle Case
2 7/8” x 2 3/4” x 3/4” thick
Poplarware Needle Case
3” x 2 1/2” x 7/8” thick

Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village (North Family), Mt. Lebanon, New York

Poplarware Sewing Box from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village - North Family Poplarware Sewing Box from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village - North Family Poplarware Sewing Box from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village - North Family
Poplarware Sewing Box
6 3/8” x 4 1/8” x 2 1/4” high
Poplarware Sewing Box
6 1/2” x 4 5/8” x 2 3/4” high
Poplarware Sewing Box
6 1/4” x 4” x 2 3/8” high

Small Striped Poplarware Box from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village - North Family Striped Poplarware Stud Box from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village - North Family Striped Poplarware Stud Box from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village - North Family
Small Striped Poplarware Box
4 1/2” x 3 3/4” x 2” high
Striped Poplarware Stud Box
3” x 3” x 1 7/8” high
Striped Poplarware Stud Box
3” x 3” x 1 3/4” high

Striped Poplarware Handkerchief Box from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village - North Family Striped Poplarware Open Work Box from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village - North Family Striped Poplarware Open Work Box from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village - North Family
Striped Handkerchief Box
5 1/2” x 6” x 2 7/8” high
Striped Open Work Box
6 1/2” x 4 1/4” x 2 1/4” high
Striped Open Work Box
6 1/4” x 4 1/4” x 2” high

Striped Poplarware Pin Cushion from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village - North Family Striped Poplarware Pin Cushion from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village - North Family Striped Poplarware Pin Cushion from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village - North Family
Striped Poplarware Pin Cushion
3 1/2” diameter x 2 1/4” high
Striped Poplarware Pin Cushion
2 3/4” diameter x 1 1/2” high
Striped Poplarware Pin Cushion
2 1/4” diameter x 1 3/4” high

Striped Poplarware Work Boxfrom Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village - North Family Poplarware Jewel Tray from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village - North Family Poplarware from Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village - North Family
Striped Poplarware Work Box
7 3/8” x 5” x 2 3/4” high
Poplarware Jewel Tray
7” x 5” x 1 3/8 high
Poplarware Box
Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village

Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, New Gloucester, Maine

Poplarware from Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village Poplarware from Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village Poplarware from Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village
Square Work Box
Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village
Square Work Box
Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village
Square Work Box
Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village

Additional Reading on Shaker Poplarware

Eliot, James. “Shaker Collecting,” Maine Antiques Digest, February 1974, pp. 24-25.

Kennedy, Gerrie, Galen Beale, and Jim Johnson. Shaker Baskets & Poplarware. Vol. 3 in the Shaker Field Guide Series. Stockbridge, Massachusetts: Berkshire House Publishers, 1992.

McCool, Elsie A. “Shaker Woven Poplar Work,” The Shaker Quarterly 2 (Summer 1961), pp. 55-59.

Miller, M. Stephen, editor. Inspired Innovations: A Celebration of Shaker Ingenuity. Lebanon, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 2010.

Wetherbee, Martha and Nathan Taylor. Shaker Baskets. Sanbornton, New Hampshire: Martha Wetherbee Basket Shop, 1988.

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