Career Highlight; A Commission from the Shakers

10" x 12" custom ceramic tile made for the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, Maine

10″ x 12″ custom ceramic tile made for the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, Maine

This commission, one of my most valued, is for a small work, certainly not my biggest or most expensive. Let me tell you the story.

In case you are unfamiliar with the Shakers, they are a Christian religious group that emigrated from England to the American colonies in 1774 in search of religious freedom. At their height in the middle of the 19th century, they numbered about 6000. There were Shaker communities in New England, New York, Kentucky, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio. However, because celibacy is one of the basic tenets of their faith, there are very few living Shakers left.

They developed a unique style of design distinguished by its utilitarian beauty and simplicity. In particular, their furniture is deeply admired. It is widely considered the only true American furniture style. Shaker artifacts are valued highly and are on exhibit in many top art museums including the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Many of their settlements are now historic landmarks.

“Established in 1783, Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in New Gloucester, Maine, is home to the only active Shaker Community in the world today. Situated on 1,800 acres of farm and forest land with seventeen historic structures from the 1780s through the 1950s, the Village continues to be a place where, we, the Shakers, live, work, and worship. “Put your hands to work, and give your hearts to God” continues to be our guiding principle, as expressed by our leader Mother Ann Lee more than 230 years ago.

Best-known today for popular styles of 19th century furniture and crafts, the Shaker legacy includes many achievements in social reform, agriculture, technology, and innovation. The flat broom, the circular saw blade, the spring clothespin, chair tilter buttons, and the paper seed envelope are all among a long list of Shaker inventions.” (

I first met Brother Arnold Hadd, a member of the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, in the summer of 2012. My husband, Peter Handler, a furniture maker with a strong interest in the Shakers and their history, had arranged a private tour for us with Brother Arnold.

Afterwards, in gratitude, I gave him a present; one of my tiles depicting an apple cut crosswise on a bed of leaves. Sabbathday Lake has a large apple orchard (19,000 trees!) so this was a very appropriate gift and very much appreciated.

Six months later, Brother Arnold sent me an email! Their director, Leonard Brooks, was retiring after 25 years. They wanted to build a ceramic vault for their library and name it after Lenny. Could I make a ceramic name plate? You bet I could!

The naming plaque, shown above, is based on one of Peter’s photographs taken on that same visit. It depicts a view of the pasture looking down to the shores of Sabbathday Lake. The plaque is small – 10″ x 12″ – and quite simple – to honor the Shakers’ spare and elegant design sensibility.

I consider this commission a career highlight. How many artists living or dead have ever been commissioned to make a work of art by the Shakers?

Brother Arnold remarked upon first seeing the tile, “It is beautiful! For once, I wish I was not a Shaker so I could fill a house with your beautiful work.”

This entry was posted by karensingertileworksinc.

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