Wednesday, August 29, 2001

Museum to showcase Shaker craftsmanship

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer Contributor

        LEBANON — The Shakers failed to convert the world to their religious beliefs, but their craftsmanship made the name “Shaker” a household word. An exhibit opening Saturday at the Warren County Historical Society Museum shows how the Shakers' sense of design came from their belief in simplicity, and how their design principles inspired many other artisans and furniture-makers.

        Called “Selling the Shaker Brand,” the show features chairs, rockers, seed boxes and packets, wooden pails, herbs and medicines, as well as cloaks and buckets. Many of the items come from the collection of Bob and Charlotte Menker of West Milton, Ohio.

  What: “Selling the Shaker Brand”
  When: Saturday through Oct. 28; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Special lecture at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 9 by Bob Menker.
  Where: Warren County Historical Society Museum, 105 S. Broadway, Lebanon
  Admission: $3 for adults, $1 for students K-12; members free
  Information: (513) 932-1817

        Although the Shakers created a demand for their products, that popularity caused them more than a few problems.

        “The Shaker name became so well known for quality and honesty that other companies started using it,” Mr. Menker said. “There was no copyright on that name. One example is "Shaker Salt,' which had an image of a Shaker woman on the box but had no connection at all with the religious commu nities.

        “It became enough of a problem that the Shakers began advertising, telling people to look for genuine Shaker products.”

        “A lot of people may not realize that Shakers made things to sell to the world,” said Mary Payne, the museum's director. “The sisters had gift shops in their communities, and the furniture was widely sold — I believe even in Marshall Field's catalogs. They originally designed these items for themselves, but then made more to sell. That's how they got money, especially in the latter years of the 19th century and early years of the 20th, when their numbers were down.”

        The Menkers have been collecting Shaker furniture and artifacts for 20 years.

        Mr. Menker said that East Coast Shakers began selling seeds in the 1700s. Seeds were an early source of revenue for the community located just west of Lebanon, which later began selling herbs and medicines.

        “The (federal government) cracked down on them in the 20th century, when it required them to list all the ingredients in their medicines,” said Mr. Menker. “Some of them were about 75 percent alcohol.”


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