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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Shake, shake, shake--

Circle Of Love Silhouette
Shaker births,
Shaker marriages...
Christmas is on my brain, as I got a sudden commission to write Advent lyrics for a song yesterday evening... Eighteen lines later, I was thinking about how I prefer requests like that one to shopping for Christmas. There's a chasm between the pure ideal of the infant of love and light and the great American shopping frenzy, now on shameful display for the world to see in YouTube Black Friday videos of lunging and shrieking Walmart buyers.

So often there's a canyon between the flogging of goods and the peaceable way that would be good to live. And even the more tasteful of U. S. catalogue peddlers can show what is either ignorance or some lack of harmony with their subject.... I was amused to look at a catalogue of Shaker reproductions and gifts for Christmas. It comes from a perfectly fine company run by people who are careful with their replicas of Shaker furnishings; my husband put together a kit of one of their Elder Chairs for my father in his illness, and we have a child's rocker he made for one of the children. Shaker design was a wondrous thing, and I suppose sometimes it is hard to remember--now that the Shakers are mostly objects and history--that they were about far more than furniture.

But what can one possibly make of the peddling of this family motto, declaring: Our Family is a circle of strength and love. With every birth and every union, the circle grows. Etc.  Do they forget for a long and potentially lucrative moment who and what the Shakers were? How they saw the world? Family motto? Do they not know why the Shakers died out, aside from a few stray members? No births! No unions!

The elaborate cut paper with fleur de lis and the sentiments remind me of a Shaker dictum. "If it is useful and necessary, free yourself from imagining that you need to enhance it by adding what is not an integral part of its usefulness or necessity."

For which, Nathaniel Hawthorne excoriated them in journal and story, by the by. He was repulsed by life at Hancock Shaker Village when he and Melville visited there. It would be hard to imagine that such a lover of solitude and retirement could adopt the idea of dormitories and shared work and meals, even though he was once a part of a utopian project (lucky for us, as we have The Blithedale Romance.)
Fabric Mouse Nativity Figures
Nothing says "Shaker" like an adorable Mouse Nativity.
Right, that's certainly in the Shaker worldview!
Though they did love Christmas and children and toys...


  1. A blog posting that is rich in meanings - all tumbling together in a rather satisfying way, Marly.

    "If it is useful and necessary, free yourself from imagining that you need to enhance it by adding what is not an integral part of its usefulness or necessity."

    I love that. That is the voice of many artists and designers. 'Decoration' has always been rife. Some good, much that is not good. If the bare bones of a piece is structured in a way that is cohesive and strong and serves the purpose it was intended to serve, then further decoration is optional and may even weaken the piece.
    This applies to art, music, and literature as well.

    I know that when I write music I am mindful of the integrity of the piece I am working on. I find 'filler' can plump up a piece but rarely adds anything to the meaning of a work, and I resist doing that.

    The Shaker approach to life sits well in my mind - not that I could live the kind of life they chose to live.

    When it comes to Christmas, I strip away the decorations and traditional overlays; look at what it means to me and what it is I am actually celebrating - and then select the decorations that most appeal to my sensibilities. So much of what I see in the modern way of celebrating Christmas has nothing much to do with why we celebrate at Christmas time (from a Christian or non-Christian point of view) and I tend to ditch those things and center on the relevant stuff to me.

    No, I am not talking about trees specifically, Marly!
    Shopping mainly. That ghastly idea that is put out in the media that Christmas is 'economically important' to a country - and making that the reason to celebrate Christmas.
    I think that is even worse than Shaker Cabbage Patch Dolls (which I am sure exist somewhere! LOL!)

  2. Hah, back to tree talk!

    Shaker Cabbage Patch Dolls: abomination indeed.

    Yes, there are many things among their saying that sit well with an artist, whether plain or less plain.

    Must clean up around the piano. Musician coming by to pick up the lyrics, and I must tweak what is needed once I hear the melody.

    More anon...


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.