The Shakers were a group of charismatic Christians who embraced dancing (unlike many Protestant denominations), allowed men and women to share leadership roles (another unusual trait amongst most Christian sects), and encouraged celibacy. But what has become most recognizable and memorable about the Shakers is their design: It’s simple, functional, and austere, and yet still pleasing to the eyes.
Naturally, their culture, belief system, and artifacts are inextricably entwined, and the Shaker Museum and Library in New Lebanon (Columbia County) and its extensive collection of objects, books, paintings, and arts and crafts inspired by Shaker design has painstakingly preserved their history even as the sect has dwindled to almost no members.
Mount Lebanon was a Shaker stronghold when they group emigrated from England to the US, and, according to the museum website, 80% of the museum’s collection came “directly from Shaker communities”. Not only does the museum house a near-complete history of the Shakers’ culture and design sensibility, it also holds a number of events throughout the year, including guided summer tours of the Mount Lebanon North Family Shaker Village. Tours are free. Classes are available, as well. In September, the museum will be holding a Shaker oval-box making demonstration (more info can be found on their events page).
Although the majority of the museum’s collection has been transferred from the Old Chatham location to New Lebanon, the research library in Old Chatham remains available by appointment year-round.
New Lebanon is located in northeast Columbia County, approximately 3 hours from NYC and 40 minutes from Albany.
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