Shaker spindle-back settee project

Until 30 October 2016

On display in one of our Manor house galleries is an art installation by Andrew Southall. Inspired by an early nineteenth-century diagram showing how to make a Shaker spindle-back settee, Andrew set about using these plans to make his own bench. The bench is currently displayed in our first-floor gallery and is accompanied by a series of monochrome photographs that document the process of making it. The American Museum is home to some of the finest examples of Shaker furniture. It is fitting, therefore, that this exploration and celebration of Shaker design should be shown here.

It was not only the beauty of Shaker furniture that attracted Andrew to this project, but also the idea of reproductions. He explains,

shaker bench diagrams vs2 copy‘Like many people, I am drawn to Shaker furniture. There are lots of reasons for this; the clarity of design, the balanced finesse of the construction process, the simplicity of the intent and my own Quaker roots – but these reasons don’t completely explain the attraction. Thus this project began as a question: What is it about Shaker furniture that’s so engaging? 

To my eye the spindle-back settee has an outstanding formal clarity. There seems a fluent correlation between the practical need for a light, transportable, communal seat and the formal delicacy of the design. The settee was made with locally available timber, constructed with hand and water powered machine tools and is beautifully adapted to the needs of the Shaker communities who created and used it.

I made the settee in this exhibition using only the construction information in the drawing… every detail required is included and there are no additional written instructions. With wonderful economy, this one diagram supplies all the material required.

The photographs that accompany the spindle-back settee are made using the negative positive process and a plate camera similar to those used in the 1830’s. The images produced record the moment of exposure and concurrently have become objects in their own right. The settee displayed here is a reproduction of an idea, the photographs are a record of this reproduction.’

The image at the top of this page shows the settee on location in a grove of imported American Maples and pines. The trees are located at Westonbirt Arboretum, founded and planted on the principles of the picturesque in 1839, the year that photography was first published.

Andrew is course leader of MA Visual Communication, a programme that brings specialist post graduate photographers, illustrators, and graphic designers together to collaborate across disciplines. He also contributes to the undergraduate programme in BA Photography, BA Fine Art and Contextual Studies.