Pleasant Hill Shaker Cupboard

Common wood from a common source creates an uncommon beauty.
By Kerry Pierce
Pages: 56-61

From the June 2006 issue #155
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I began my study of the Shaker furniture at Pleasant Hill, Ky., with a quick survey of the contents of the enormous Centre Family Dwelling, sticking my head in the door of each room, making a mental note of everything that caught my eye: a table here, a chair there, a little blanket chest, a tripled clothes hanger.

Each item on my mental list had something about it that set it apart from other objects in the Dwelling. In some cases, it was a splash of color, in others a bit of intriguing joinery, in others a form that deviated from Shaker norms. In this manner, I chugged along for maybe half an hour: Looking, storing and getting excited about the prospect of looking more closely later on.

Then, in a room on the second floor, I saw this cupboard hanging from a peg rail above a washstand. I stuck my head in, caught my breath, released it and then slowly entered the room. The cupboard was familiar (Christian Becksvoort’s book “The Shaker Legacy” [Taunton]), but I had forgotten about it. I know I wasn’t expecting to see it there.

I stepped over the low railing erected to keep the public at a distance. (I had permission from the curator.) I stuck my nose close to the piece to study the pegs that penetrated the joinery of the frame-and-panel door, then backed off. This was something special, something profoundly Shaker, something that – unlike many pieces in the Pleasant Hill collection – could never be attributed to country origins.

From the June 2006 issue #155
Buy this issue now