Shaker Style is having a moment and four contemporary artists share why it’s resonating today.
As the youngest member of the museum’s Makers’ Circle, recent art school graduate Jolie Ngo creates ceramic ‘cyborg-like’ objects and vessels using modern technologies, including 3-D printing and rapid prototyping. A child of the early aughts, her aesthetic was shaped by digital interfaces including Minecraft and The Sims, and she continues to explore the intersection between handmade and automated. “Shaker work is quite the opposite of my own with a focus on simplicity and purpose,” Ngo says. “Their objects lack unnecessary ornamentation and decorative detail.” But, nonetheless, she has come to appreciate this ethos of making. “They believed that mastery of craft was a partnership with tools, materials and process—an idea I hold close within my own work, continuously probing the synergy between what is formed by hand versus technology.”
“Iconic Shaker pieces, like chairs and boxes, have always had a pull on us as designers,” explains Ladies & Gentlemen Studio’s Dylan Davis, adding that working with the museum has “been an amazing opportunity to do a deeper dive into their culture.” Davis, who founded his multidisciplinary Brooklyn studio in 2010 with wife Jean Lee, believes historical principles of Shakerism can change how we look at contemporary life. For example, they reimagined one of the Shakers’ most intentionally designed furnishings that centers around a closely held belief: the workstation. The pair’s secretary-style iteration features just the right amount of room for everyday items while allowing them to be concealed at the end of the day.
For artist David Nosanchuk, studying designs of the past has allowed him to develop an oeuvre very much rooted in the present. Using new materials, methods and processes, Nosanchuk is remaking traditional Shaker work such as wooden candlestands in translucent resin. A longtime student of Shaker style, the New York-based artist has come to understand that their culture and beliefs were tied to what they produced. Be it a chair, table or baby’s toy, every form harks back to the maker’s values—a quiet beauty Nosanchuk honors throughout every stage of construction.
When going through the Shaker Museum’s collection, Katie Stout was drawn to colorful, sweet and soft objects—in other words, not the iconic pieces noted for minimalism. As a direct response to a bonnet and cloak she found in the archives, the trail blazing artist created a whimsical chair out of muslin layered with ruffles and ruching. Stout describes the final result as “a silly, frilly duo of cloaked and bonnet-ed chairs joined in a permanent Shaker dance.” And while the contemporary artist is drawn to the group’s “resourcefulness, simple solutions and entrepreneurial genius” she is also interested in the predominance of female makers and the role women played in propelling 19th century craft forward.