Ken Burns The Shakers

Ken Burns The ShakersAs a short follow-up on my last post, Minimalists in History: The Shakers, I wanted to mention that last night my husband and I watched Ken Burns’ America: The Shakers. It’s a brief introduction to the history of the Shakers. Only about an hour long, it’s not an in-depth resource by any means, but we enjoyed it.

The film includes historical photos and readings from diaries and letters, as well as interviews with historians and some of the then-surviving elderly female Shakers. It’s a bit out of date, but since it’s largely historical, that doesn’t matter much.

Subtitled “Hands to Work, Hearts to God,” this documentary discusses the Shakers’ faith, including their belief that their work should be as perfect as possible because God dwells in the details and quality of their work.

Their furniture, architecture and spirit drawings are shown and discussed. Many of their inventions, including the circular saw, packaged seeds, clothespin and flat broom, are showcased as well.

Viewers are treated to Shaker songs and dance, performed by surviving Shakers. The film also covers the group’s belief in pacifism, simplicity, communal ownership and celibacy.

At least one of the Believers has criticized the film as “basically a lie.” Arnold Hadd said Ken Burns “wanted to show us as dead. He interviewed only the very oldest Shakers. He didn’t show anything of a present-day Shaker community. But Shakers are alive and well.”

Given that there are now only 3 Shakers left, this may have been overly optimistic. However, Mother Ann did predict that the Shakers would dwindle to only few members and then overcome all nations. Perhaps she’ll be proven right in the coming years.

I found the DVD at our local library, but the film appears to be available on Netflix (DVD only) as well.

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