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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


The ' Ark: Essence and Form

GOD AMONG THE SHAKERS: A Search for Stillness and Faith at Sabbathday Lake by Suzanne Skees ($12.95, paperback, 288 pages, Hyperion; ISBN: 0786883642) HARDCOVER

Only one small family of Shakers remains, on a farm in rural Maine, struggling to carry their faith from the eighteenth century to the third millennium. They live together in intimacy without sexuality, yoking together modem technology with deliberate simplicity, lifting "hands to work and hearts to God" in stark contrast to current society. They follow their founder, Mother Ann Lee, who arrived in America in 1787 as the second coming of Christ.

Devoted followers claimed Ann Lee was the second coming, the daughter of God. The rest of the world thought her mad or possessed. Without a doubt, colonial America had never seen anyone quite like the dynamic and shockingly outspoken Ann Lee, who founded the Shakers, America’s most successful utopian community.

As a Harvard divinity student, Suzanne Skees was intrigued by the controversial religious sect. A visit to their sole surviving community launched her on an incredible journey of faith which she has documented in GOD AMONG THE SHAKERS.

Intimate and candid, GOD AMONG THE SHAKERS lifts the curtain on this private community, providing a rare glimpse of what it can teach the outside world. In her desire to "escape the sterility of agnosticism," Suzanne Skees gained a fresh perspective on her own spirituality and a deep appreciation for Shaker conviction. Her stay at Sabbathday Lake changed her in profound ways that affect her every day. With this book, she offers others a chance to do the same.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Suzanne Skees met the world’s last Shakers while a divinity student at Harvard. The meeting launched years of research into Shaker theology and a friendship with the Sabbathday Lake community that led from correspondence to a visit with them to learn the Shaker Way. Skees lives in northern California.

THE SHAKERS: Two Centuries of Spiritual Reflection
(Classics of Western Spirituality) edited by Robley E. Whitson, photographs by William C. Chittick and Peter
Lamborn Wilson ($19.95, paperback, 370 pages, Paulist Press; ISBN: 0809123738)

This anthology of Shaker spiritual writings and songs is probably the best edition avilable exploring the Shaker spiritual legacy.

THE SHAKER LEGACY: Perspectives on an Enduring Furniture Style by Christian Becksvoort, photographs by John Sheldon ($40.00, hardcover, 240 pages, Taunton Press; ISBN: 1561582182)

Clean, elegant and honest functionality make Shaker furniture one of the most popular and enduring furniture styles. The Shaker Legacy presents the unique perspective of a leading expert in Shaker furniture design restoration, and reproduction.

Based on extensive research and personal experience with the last working Shaker community, Chris Becksvoort reveals the roots of Shaker design. He explains how Shaker belief inspired the design principles exemplified in Shaker furniture and how to recognize the careful craftsmanship and signature details that define Shaker style. Becksvoort also discusses the largely unknown Victorian period of Shaker design and explains how Shaker furniture has influenced other furniture styles.

The heart of THE SHAKER LEGACY is an extensive visual tour of more than 140 classic Shaker pieces, many of which have never been previously photographed for publication. Photographs taken on location at various communities as well as rare material from Shaker archives enrich the sections on Shaker history and belief For everyone who loves Shaker furniture and wants to deepen their appreciation of this classic style, this is a beautiful book to be treasured.

SHAKER LIFE, ART, AND ARCHITECTURE: Hands to Work, Hearts to God text by Scott T. Swank, principal photography by Bill Finney ($60.00, hardcover, 240 pages,  Abbeville Press, Inc.; ISBN: 0789203588)

In this pioneering, richly illustrated study historian Scott T. Swank reveals the links between the daily life of the Shakers in their planned, religious communities and their art and architecture.

As the Director of Canterbury Shaker Village, the author has had unlimited access to the Village's archives, resources, and grounds, examining papers and artifacts, exploring the 25 remaining buildings, and experiencing the seasons. He has literally been able to walk in the footpaths of the Canterbury Shakers, whose community remained prominent for 200 years. It is one of the oldest, most typical, and most completely preserved of all the Shaker villages, the only community with an intact first generation meeting house and first dwelling house on their original sites. The result of the author's painstaking research and close observation is this perceptive book, filled with discoveries, presenting the full sweep of Shaker art and architecture in the context of a specific Shaker community in Canterbury, New Hampshire.

Two centuries ago, the Shakers established America's most successful communal societies. They lived in isolated, rural villages, pursuing work and worship in communities where religion, social behavior, and environmental design were constructed as a harmonious whole. These utopian communities were regulated by "gospel order" which assured their members that their disciplined lives were in harmony with God's will. In these spiritual havens, they endeavored to accomplish their founder's twin mandates, "Hands to work, hearts to God."

Shaker designs have endured long after the communities that created them have passed from the American scene. Shaker style, encompassing all elements of art and architecture, has been greatly esteemed for its craftsmanship, sense of proportion, simplicity, and practicality. The author's well researched text, detailed captions, and excerpts from diaries and letters bring life to the legacy of Shaker objects as well as to the architecture. He also provides a time line, a bibliography, and notes.

Accompanying the text are 250 illustrations including 150 in color principally by Bill Finney, who has been photographing Canterbury for over twenty years. There are also historical pictures and maps and newly created plans and diagrams.

This insightful book should especially interest collectors, historians, interior designers, and architects, giving readers a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Shakers' artistic legacy.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: DR. SCOTT T. SWANK has been the Director of Canterbury Shaker Village since 1980 and recently was also named President. He is the author of numerous books and articles, including Arts of the Pennsylvania Germans and another volume A Shaker Family Album : Photographs from the Collection of Canterbury Shaker Village by David R. Starbuck, Scott T. Swank, Inc Shaker Village ($19.95, Paperback, 128 pages,
University Press of New England; ISBN: 0874518474)

ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: BILL FINNEY is an award winning photographer who divides his time between his ancestral home in Ireland and his native New Hampshire.

INNER LIGHT: The Shaker Legacy by June Sprigg, photographs by Linda Butler ($24.95, paperback, Gnomon Distribution; ISBN: 0917788575)

Sprigg's text is well integrated with the stark black and white compositions of Butler.

WHEN TRUE SIMPLICITY IS GAINED: Finding Spiritual Clarity in a Complex World BYMartin Marty and photographs by Micah Marty ($16.00, paperback, 112 pages, Eerdsmans ISBN: 0802842372)

This lovely book of meditations and photographs by father and son team Martin Marty and Micah Marty reflect on the spiritual dimension of the gift of simplicity, highlighting the grace component of the simple life.

Rather than offering complex instructions on how to accomplish the simple life, the Martys show that simplicity is at hand, waiting to be discovered, discerned, and enjoyed. The title comes from the classic Shaker hymn, "The Gift to Be Simple," and Micah Marty's black and white photographs portray Shaker arts, artifacts, and buildings. Paired with these images are Martin Marty's meditations, which are based on prayers of the church most of them classical and which emphasize what we find with "the gift of simplicity."

WHEN TRUE SIMPLICITY IS GAINED demonstrates "when true simplicity is gained" the busy and otherwise distracted person will be gifted with new measures of clarity of purpose, directness of vision, serenity of soul, order in agenda and an experience of God.

Printed by Gardner Lithograph (Ansel Adams' printer), the book's production quality combines with its well crafted content to make WHEN TRUE SIMPLICITY IS GAINED an ideal gift book for friends and loved ones.

Martin Marty, author of 50 books, has been called by Time magazine "the most influential living interpreter of religion in America." Recipient of the National Humanities Medal, he is an ordained minister who taught at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago for 35 years. Presently, Marty is director of the Public Religion Project, senior editor of the Christian Century, and editor of the fortnightly newsletter Context. His books include A Cry of Absence, considered to be a modern spiritual classic, and The Promise of Winter: Quickening the Spirit on Ordinary Days and in Fallow Seasons.

Micah Marty, one of today's foremost photographers of the sacred, works exclusively in black and white. Among his previous books pairing his photographs with Martin Marty's reflections are The Promise of Winter: Quickening the Spirit on Ordinary Days and in Fallow Seasons.

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