SHAKER FAMILY HOME
TRENT JANSEN STUDIO ~ 2019
The Shaker Family Home is a collection of work inspired by the austere religious and furniture making practices of the Shaker people, during the early 19thCentury. It is during this period that the Shaker religion was at its strongest, centred around New England, in the north-east of the United States. It was also in this era that the Shakers began to make the artefacts for which they are most renowned, their refined timber chairs, cabinets and objects for living, a pre-cursor to Modern design.
The Shakers see labour of all kinds as an act of prayer, as indicated by their central belief – “Hands to work, hearts to god”. As a result, they became dedicated furniture makers, devoting countless hours to this fastidious craft, and perfecting their skills and designs as a testament to god. The Shakers were also celibate, meaning that one could not be born a Shaker, but had to choose the religion. Members of the Shaker faith lived in isolated villages, occupying beautifully crafted houses as collections of disparate individuals who lived and worked together as families, referring to each other as sister, brother, mother and father, despite the absence of blood relation. At its peak, in the early to mid 19thCentury, there were 6000 Shaker believers, but by the early 20thCentury there were only 12 Shaker communities remaining in the United States and by 2017 only 2 Shakers remained in the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in New Gloucester – Brother Arnold Hadd and Sister June Carpenter. As with all religions, believers came and went as their faith waxed and waned and their motivations evolved, an attrition that has meant the near extinction of this humble religion.
The Shaker Family Home is an homage to this way of life: Furniture design and making as an act of prayer; the fragility of faith; and the complexity of family in a community where no children are born. The cabinet in this family of objects represents the Shaker home, a structure that houses the family members in a series of drawers – the rooms of the house. The members of the family are represented by a series of functional object, each living in its own drawer within the cabinet. No two objects are the same, tied together only by the Shaker sensibility that governs their design. As in Shaker communities, these objects can remain in the fold, functioning as part of the family unit, inside the cabinet. However, they are also free to leave the fold and function as autonomous objects outside of the cabinet, the family home, and the community.
The Shaker Family Home required a truly collaborative approach to design and making. The conception of this narrative driven furniture piece required a designer with a strong history of embodying story in physical form. The realisation of this family of objects required a maker whose skills and sensibilities were fully attuned to the complexity and fastidiousness of the Shaker approach to living, worshiping and making. The Shaker Family Home brings together Trent Jansen’s heavily research-led, anthropological design approach with Chris Nicholson’s sensitive understanding and recreation of Shaker theologies and making methodologies in a nuanced homage to the purity of the Shakers, their beliefs and their cabinetry.
Production – Illawarra, Australia
Maker – Chris Nicholson
Image Credit – Watervliet Shakers and Romello Pereira
Materials – American cherry, mirror and brass
Limited edition of 5, 5 remaining. 2 artist’s proofs, 2 remaining
Available through Trent Jansen Studio