About Shaker Baskets and Basketry
What is a SHAKER basket?
The Shakers learned basketry partly from the Algonquin Indians who were also trading partners. Although both men and women were involved, because basketry didn't require male support to keep it going, it thrived longer than the other industries when males failed to join the order in sufficient numbers. The Shakers took the simple basket and elevated it to an art form which in turn generated a large dollar income for the community.
The raw materials existed on their own properties and the Shakers owned land in the Adirondacks which continued to provide ash after the local supply dwindled. The bark of the black ash (Fraxinus Nigra) was pulled off with a bark spud, a stout curved blade and wooden handle. The sharpened blade, which reflects the shape of the log, helped peel the bark off. The bark was used to produce tannin for the tanning industry, which was operated by the Shakers into the second half of the 19th century. The Shakers always attempted to dovetail industries and make wide use of interrelated technologies.
After removing the bark, the splints were prepared. Native Algonquins prepared splints by hand using a wooden club to pound the annual growth rings off. Once the Shakers harnessed running water to supply power, they built a triphammer to beat the logs and loosen ash strips. This hammer was also used by the blacksmith to pound out metal and to break flax. A simple machine - a device pulled up a weighted head to a specified height, than a release mechanism dropped this weight or hammer on the log. It was a great labour saving device that efficiently produced large quantities of splints.
Perhaps the most important element in Shaker basketry was the use of wooden moulds or forms of almost unlimited varieties. This allowed the Shakers to produce baskets in commercial quantities. The Sisters produced most of the baskets, while the Brothers provided support in the preparation of the raw materials, the manufacture of the basket handles and other woodworking processes, thus guaranteeing efficient production and high output. The wooden mould, of which there were dozens attest to the variety of styles and heights of baskets produced. A simple change in handle style and a new basket was born.
Sales indicated to the Shakers, consumer preference for the smaller "fancy" baskets. They responded to the need and decided to let the worldly producers make the bigger and plainer items. The smaller fancy baskets didn't deplete their ash supplies as rapidly and the hexagonal "cheese baskets" or "curd baskets" took small amounts of splint. All of these smaller baskets requird less masculine labour support and given the fact the male population was shrinking, this became an important factor in their choice of manufacture.
A few additional links to Shaker sites
New one-of-a-kind handwoven and artist signed collectible baskets are added regularly to Simply Baskets. Since these are one-of-a-kind baskets, when they're sold, they're gone forever. Don't wait to purchase the unique basket you love - buy it today before someone else does!