A Review of Pleasant Hill Shaker Furniture

The untold story of the birth, death and resurrection of a Kentucky Shaker community is revealed by Kerry Pierce in his new book, “Pleasant Hill Shaker Furniture” (Popular Woodworking Books). This inspiration to woodworkers showcases seldom-seen furniture and details of period construction methods, and it’s a history aficionado’s study of how people lived during the 19th century.

This is the first in-depth look into the furniture and lives of one of the most prolific Western communities, and an area of study that Shaker enthusiasts should welcome with open arms.

Why Kerry Pierce? As a woodworker who has studied Shaker furniture for many years and the author of several woodworking books – not to mention a retired English teacher – who could be better?

While beginning my detailed inspection, I was sure this was a book on building Shaker furniture – one that I could take into the shop and use. Hey, it includes measured drawings after all.

Well, while this is not technically a “how-to” book, I’m sure any inspired woodworker could extrapolate the necessary information from the drawings and pages of descriptions, in order to build any one of the 17 projects.

But this book is more by far. It is also a study of the history of the times, of the fortitude of hardworking people to build what they considered a better life, and of a religious denomination that found its way into the modern woodworker’s world through simple furniture designs.

I found myself enthralled by the elegant writing, fantastic pictures and great detail. Kerry pays homage to the ever-popular story of Mother Ann Lee (a well-detailed journey in most Shaker books) then moves quickly to the mission undertaken by three selected representatives of the New Lebanon Shaker community – to set out for the West to establish additional branches of the Shaker religion. That mission was the beginning of the Pleasant Hill community. I felt as if I was there in the background, watching the happenings as the picture was painted.

I am particularly fond of the section on the 19th-century woodshop; it’s filled with historical information on the materials used in furniture construction and of the tools used in the shop, such as the lathe made by Francis Montfort, a long-time member who made many pieces in his woodworking career.

Kerry also explores the craftsmen of Pleasant Hill, including job descriptions and more in mini-biographies. This presents a comprehensive picture of the work of the day and the rugged times that were experienced by all.

This entire section is balanced with an account of the woodshop as it is today – how the interpreters are devoted to telling the storied past of the Shakers correctly while using tools from the period and dressed in period clothing.