At first glance, Shaker boxes feel as serene as Brancusi’s Sleeping Muse. But stacked together, the colorful bentwood boxes buzz, exuding a jumpy vitality more than 200 years after crafty members of the celibate sect first painted them. The eye-popping pigment is a visual treat for design devotees who see the divine in spare Shaker style.
Leslie and Leigh Keno’s first encounter with these storage boxes took place at the Shaker Museum’s annual antiques fair in Old Chatham, New York. It was more than 35 years ago, but Leslie still recalls the sense (and scents!) of excitement when he lifted the lid: "I clearly remember the wonderful aroma—a blend of spices and aged wood. The construction is so perfect that it creates a suction when you lift the lid. It’s almost airtight." The teenage dealer soon learned that the tight-fitting lid and subsequent "suction" was one way to authenticate a Shaker-made box.
Twin Leigh chimes in: "We used to joke that these boxes were early Tupperware for Shakers. And this was our kind of Tupperware."
Here, Leslie (left) and Leigh Keno lift the lid to inspect a Shaker bentwood box. The oval boxes held everything, from dried herbs and spices to thread and buttons. "About the only thing they didn’t hold was liquid," says Leigh.
Text by Doris Athineos
Produced by Leigh Keno and Leslie Keno
Photograph by Joe Standart