Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Grace, beauty, and function

Shaker design is valued for its spare beauty, often the result of an obsessive devotion to functionality. Still, examples exist where function could have been achieved more simply. The stairs in the 1839 Trustees Office at the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill are one. Instead of paired, straight stairs on either side, as is found in all the other buildings at Pleasant Hill, Micajah Burnett built twin spirals on either side of the central hallways that rise three floors. The stairs curve in opposite directions, as if they were anticipating discovery of the structure of DNA. The bedrooms next to the stairs even have their walls curved inward to accommodate the stairs.

The Trustees Office is the one building in the community that wasn't intended for exclusive Shaker use. It was built as a place where the Trustees, or business agents, for the community could greet and house people from outside the community in order to conduct their business affairs. Perhaps Mr. Burnett was trying to impress the outsiders with the Shakers' ability and ingenuity.


  1. My goodness! That's a complicated piece of carpentry. And to make two such staircases....

  2. It's lovely, very organic, like music made in wood. These days they seem to attach the words 'Shaker-style' to all manner of things that probably aren't.

  3. Yes, John, it is. Micajah Burnett built many of the buildings at Pleasant Hill, and I've been told he had no formal training. He certainly operated well above my skill level!
    Jenny, I often see "Shaker" items at flea markets that clearly aren't. I don't know how much is dishonesty and how much is simply ignorance. But if you see a big Shaker "bargain," it probably isn't!

  4. One of the most beautiful bits of carpentry I've ever seen!