WoodCentral's Book Reviews
The Shaker Legacy

The Shaker Legacy
  Perspectives on an Enduring Furniture Tradition
by Christian Becksvoort

Taunton Press, 1998
Paperback, 233 pp., $24.95
ISBN: 1-56158-218-2

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     Chris Becksvoort is about as authoritative an expert on Shaker furniture as anyone currently making fine furtniture. This volume's historical overview of an enduring design philosophy is beautifully represented by museum pieces from American and British museums as well as antique stores, private collections and photos of a few modern reproductions.
     Each entry in a gallery of tables, desks, stools, beds, chairs, benches and built-ins, is described in detail as to its period and origin, with interesting notes of messages scribbled under drawers by its maker. A transitional, small case of drawers, made in 1861 between the Classical and Victorian periods, bears the notation: "Tis only he that has no credit to loose that can afford to work in this style."
     A later piece of casework, with eighteen meticulously divided drawers, bears writing beneath a drawer: "H.C. amusing himself sortin' tacks - an idle mind is the devil's workshop." And under another drawer, "Our lips mumble the phrases of a bygone Shakerism, but our hearts dwell in the camp of the hypocrite."
     Beautiful color photography and historical explanations make this treatise on Shaker life and style a truly appreciative work. I'd heard it said that a last surviving member of the Shaker communities "hoped they wouldn't be remembered only for their furniture." It seems to me, if judgment of a people is better by what they do than what they say, then the Shakers have expressed what was in their hearts very purely by what they have made with their hands.
     Becksvoort does an admirable job in capturing the deep reverence of these craftsmen's work. He also includes a long bibliography for further reading and an illustrated glossary of both unique Shaker terms and general woodworking terms. The book is fully indexed.

...Barb Siddiqui