Who are the Shakers?

Shaker Design continued - Hierarchy and Pattern

The arrangement of parts and their importance in terms of function, shape, or size relative to the overall placement defines the hierarchy of a piece. In most Shaker storage units consisting of cupboard over drawers (fig. 7), greater importance is given to the single door by centering it at eye level above a bank of drawers. Considerable prominence is given to the top of the case by means of the wide stiles on either side of the much narrower cupboard. Although the stiles command primary visual importance because of their mass (thereby balancing the stack of drawers below), they are somewhat dysfunctional, as they make the space behind them partially inaccessible. This arrangement, however, is probably the norm within Shaker furniture design. In the Grove Wright counter (fig. 4), more visual prominence is given to the single door than the wider drawers, thus achieving an overall balanced effect. The same is true of the facade of the early Canterbury counter, where the smaller cupboard door is more important than the adjacent bank of drawers.

An example of hierarchy: Cupboard and case of drawers, Mount Lebanon, New York, c. 1820
Fig 7. An example of hierarchy: Cupboard and case of drawers, Mount Lebanon, New York, c. 1820

Pattern involves the repetitive use of similar shapes, forms, or spaces to create unity and organization within a design. The most common configuration is found in cases of drawers, with their repetition of similar elements. Here, the expected pattern consists of a bank of graduated drawers. However, the complex counter shown in fig. 8 utilizes two distinct drawer patterns to create an aesthetically pleasing composition. The three drawers increase in size vertically from top to bottom, creating a rhythm typical of worldly furniture. At the same time, drawers decrease in width (38 1/2, 32 1/8, 22 9/16, 17, 17, and 17 inches) horizontally across the front of the over-twelve-foot-long case. This results in an unusual yet harmonious design that avoids the monotony of equal-size drawers throughout. In one common pattern each drawer in a single bank is smaller than the one below it (fig. 9). Drawers can also be graduated in sets, or more commonly in pairs, decreasing in size from bottom to top (fig. 10). In other cases, none of the drawers are graduated (fig. 11). The same form may be given different arrangements of drawers, as illustrated in figs. 12-14.

An example of pattern - Counter with drawers graduated vertically and horizontally, Mount Lebanon, New York, c. 1820
Fig. 8. An example of pattern – Counter with drawers graduated vertically and horizontally, Mount Lebanon, New York, c. 1820

An example of pattern - Case of drawers, non graduated, Mount Lebanon, New York, c. 1820
Fig. 11. An example of pattern – Case of drawers, non graduated, Mount Lebanon, New York, c. 1820

 An example of pattern - Case of drawers with simple graduated drawers, Groveland, New York, c. 1830
Fig 9. An example of pattern – Case of drawers with simple graduated drawers, Groveland, New York, c. 1830

An example of pattern - Case of drawers graduated in sets. Mount Lebanon, New York, c. 1840.
Fig. 10. An example of pattern – Case of drawers graduated in sets. Mount Lebanon, New York, c. 1840. The top two pairs of drawers are 7 inches in depth, the next four are approximately on inch deeper, and the bottom two are about an inch deeper than the previous tier.

Examples of pattern - Three different groupings of drawers in the same form, cupboard over case of drawers, Mount Lebanon, New York, c. 1840
Figs. 12-14. Examples of pattern – Three different groupings of drawers in the same form, cupboard over case of drawers, Mount Lebanon, New York, c. 1840

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