Monday, September 16, 2013

Shaker Bible Charts

2013ms0769: Jacob Skeen "Genealogical, chronological and geographical chart: embracing biblical and profane history of ancient times from Adam to Christ" chart

This chart was printed by the Skeen Chart Co. in Louisville, Kentucky, in February of 1887. The chart represents one of the more unusual economic schemes put forward by the Shakers to support their communities.

The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing (or Shakers) is a religion founded upon the teachings of Ann Lee and an offshoot of English Protestantism originating during the First Great Awakening (1730s and 1740s). Called Shakers due to the rapturous character of their early worship, often speaking in tongues, they believe in celibacy, equality of the sexes, and communalism. They are most well known for their contributions to American culture through their style of craftsmanship and music. After immigrating to New York by 1774, they set up separate communities supported by producing and selling various goods and services, such as their hospitality (tourism), seeds, crops, food stuffs, furniture, baskets, clothing, and printed cards. Currently, Lake Sabbathday, Maine, is the only active and functioning Shaker village in the world.

Jacob and David Skeen, non-Shaker brothers from Ohio, proposed the bible chart project in 1886. The Shakers would underwrite, produce, and distribute lithographic bible charts printed with a map of the world and biblical genealogical information. The charts were to be used in the biblical instruction of children. Ultimately the charts were printed commercially in Louisville.

Beyond simply being an artifact of the Shakers’ economic history, the chart is representative of Shaker spirituality. Shaker religious thought began to evolve in the late 19th century, attempting to reconcile their beliefs with a changing world. Shakers began to collaborate with evangelical Protestants such as Baptists and Methodists, allowing them to use their facilities and forming joint Sunday schools. Additionally, the Shakers began to study the Bible more closely, which in turn led to the Skeens’ bible chart project. Alonzo G. Hollister, a Shaker scholar, was particularly interested in the project due to his fascination with study aids.

The chart traces biblical genealogy from Adam to Jesus Christ and contains subcharts listing parables of Jesus and the books of the New Testament.  Additionally the charts are inscribed with the names of four major Shaker communities: Mount Lebanon, Union Village, Pleasant Hill, and South Union. Only Mount Lebanon in New York was directly involved in the project, with Shaker sisters backing the charts for sale. After printing 204 charts the business shuttered in 1887.

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