Outside The Box

Wood was one of the first materials ever worked by early humans. With rich colours, pliability and steadfastness, it’s not surprising that it remains one of the most popular materials in the 21st century. One of the reasons for its endurance was the fine example of craftsmanship set in the mid-18th century by the controversial religious sect; the Shakers.

Combining elements of Quakerism and Christian worship practices, this religious group gained its name from a contraction of ‘shaking Quakers’ as they were heavily influenced by French Charismatics who had fled to England to avoid persecution. Living together in communities far removed from everyday life, men and women lived segregated lives due to their vows of celibacy, and focused on craftsmanship  woodworking in particular.

Much of our everyday equipment was in fact invented by the Shakers, such as the modern broom and the clothespin. However what’s more typical of their craft style is the simple and exquisitely detailed Shaker box. And although Shaker communities are far and few between these days, their designs can still be found in the nooks and crannies of contemporary homes all around the world.

James Morgan is one woodworker who produces these elegant handmade boxes. Made with cherry and maple, you can see the trademark swallow tails, copper tacks and bevelled details on each piece – surefire giveaways of traditional Shaker woodwork. To make each box, Morgan cuts the swallow tails into the ends of the bands, and bends them around oval moulds before fastening them with tacks. Each lid band is then moulded around each box to give it its expert fit and finish.

With so many traditional crafts dying out today (the most endangered of which are featured in Selvedge issue 79), finding such idiosyncratic and highly skilled artisans isn’t always as easy as taking a stroll down the high street. So next time you’re in need of some storage, why not ask yourself – what would the Shakers do?

Click here to view the Shaker boxes now on sale at Selvedge, and enter the code JANUARY at the checkout to receive 40% off.

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