A Shaker Failure
I’ve had bad days wrestling with my sketchbook where it was impossible for me to draw anything but junk. Junk I didn’t want to build and junk that no one would ever buy.
Sometimes I leave those stepchild pages in my sketchbook as a reminder of how awful I am. Sometimes I crumple the pages up because someone might see the drawing if I die before destroying the evidence. And rarely, thank goodness, I actually build a prototype of the dumb design.
If the ugly thing does get built, which has happened a few times in the last 23 years, I am quick to dispose of it at the curb.
I was reminded of everything ugly I’d ever done in my life while touring the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill in Harrodsburg, Ky., on Sunday. The small Western Shaker village is one of my favorite places to visit. The buildings, furniture and landscape are all testaments to the Shaker design aesthetic.
But the Shakers were not perfect.
After visiting there regularly since 1993, I have spied several pieces in the collection that are just plain awkward or suggest that not all the Shakers practiced temperance. This Sunday I encountered a desk I’d never seen before that was tucked into a corner at the farm deacon’s house.
It was a secretary, but one so crippled by its design that I struggled at first to see if it was merely a stack of three separate pieces of furniture – a cupboard, fall-front desk and dresser. But no. It was indeed one piece with no evidence that it had been stitched together from separate pieces. The dark color on the drawer fronts made me think that something fishy was amiss, but everything looked like it had been together from the start.
The fall-front was a lighter color that the rest of the piece, but that likely was because the fall-front was probably kept in the open position to divert attention from the mess at the top of the secretary.
The drawers at the top. Really? Why would you not turn this design upside down? Drawers on the bottom, fall-front in the middle and cupboard at the top? I poked around the interior of the secretary for answers, but found none.
Suddenly my heart felt lighter as I recalled my mashup of Queen Anne and American Southwestern Desert design that was embodied in a blanket chest (rest its soul). Lesson learned: Don’t forget to tell your woodworking friends which pieces they should burn upon your demise.
— Christopher Schwarz