Reimagining The Shakers

Shannon Mattern at Art In America:

Yet rather than imagining the Shakers as a romantic ideal, it might be more valuable to acknowledge the community’s contradictions and compromises. The Shakers manifested their faith through both rapturous movement and rigorous order; they embraced both simplicity and technological progress; they espoused gender equality while upholding traditional gendered labor roles; they promoted social equality while governing their own community through what some apostates and critics regarded as a rather autocratic centralized authority. They were removed from the world yet regularly did business with it. As Brother Arnold Hadd of the Sabbathday Lake Shakers—the last remaining active Shaker community—said in a 2014 interview, “We are the ultimate capitalistic communists.” On a 2020 Shaker Museum panel discussion about the sect’s continuing relevance, religious scholar Ashon Crawley explained that the Shakers performed labor as a spiritual practice in order to sustain their community, while also knowingly interacting with a world market committed to exploitation and profit. This interaction required that they willingly compromise on their vow of separation. Especially as their commercial enterprises ramped up and their population declined, Shakers occasionally hired laborers from outside the community, relying on non-Believers to produce their divinely inspired wares.

more here.