Girls Shop, Sabbathday Lake, with Sister Ada S. Cummings (1862-1926) and Sister Lizzie Bailey (b. 1886).
The furnishing of a Shaker room has been aptly described as falling between the starkness of a prison and the ostentation of a boarding house. In time, decorations-within reason-were permitted; note for instance the knickknacks on the shelf. Nevertheless, simplicity and straightforwardness are still indicated in this photograph
Both women are framed by plane architectural background rectangles which divide the room into organizing quadrants. Within this setting, the upright positions of the Sisters convey dignity and strength, attributes seldom revealed in contemporary photographs of women.
The difficult balancing of tradition and modernity may have been the greatest challenge to Shakerism. Take, for example, the sewing machine pictured. Like most labor-saving inventions, it was readily accepted by the Shakers. To keep their "hands at work," the Sisterhood developed a fancy goods industry which serviced the needs of other women who owned sewing machines.
Oval carriers like the one in Sister Lizzie's lap were sold as sewing baskets, each outfitted with a pin cushion, needlebook, emery and bee's wax. The irony is that through this process of adaptation, Shakerism has come to be identified more with material products than the underlying religious principles.
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