The Shaker Museum and Library is located in Old Chatham, New York. John S. Williams founded the museum in 1950, with the help of many shaker communities in New England. At the time, the Shaker Museum was the first and only museum in the world dedicated to the preservation of the life, work, religion, and culture of the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, or the "Shakers".
The museum houses over 30000 objects and archival pieces of Shaker design. Pieces and exhibits in the museum collection were donated by other Shaker settlements in the Northeast. The collection includes furniture, decorations, and objects of everyday life.
A majority of the archival pieces, including photographs and manuscripts from the central church, were donated by Eldress Emma B. King in 1962. In anticipation of receiving this collection, the museum built a 950 square foot fireproof building to house them in. This building, which contains these pieces and others, now bears her name.
The museum acquired its accreditation from the American Association of Museums in 1972. John Williams and his family ran it until his death in 1982. After his passing, the museum organization began to retain professionally trained caretakers for the exhibits. The education center was organized at this time, and by 1990 the museum was renamed "The Shaker Museum and Library" to represent the dual nature of the organization.
In 1997, the museum began to loan out exhibits to be shown in other local museums. One exhibit, Shaker Gifts, Shaker Genius: The Collections of the Shaker Museum and Library, was shown in the PaineWebber Art Gallery in New York City in 1999. Other exhibits have been shown as far away as Seattle and Los Angeles.
The SM&L received $750000 in 2001 to investigate the purchase of lands formerly owned by the North family Shakers in New Lebanon, New York. The board of directors agreed to build a new state-of-the-art facility in the Great Stone Barn on the North family lands, the largest stone barn in America. The project involves a complete rehabilitation of the structure, which was gutted by a fire in the 1970's. This project will complete a reunion of sorts, as a majority of the objects in the museum's collection originated from the New Lebanon settlement.
While the New Lebanon project continues, the museum and library in Chatham will remain open to the public from late May through October. Its hours are from 10am to 5pm every day except Tuesday. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors, and $4 for children 8 and over.
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