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Stillness and Light

The Silent Eloquence of Shaker Architecture

Henry Plummer

Publication Year: 2009

Shaker buildings have long been admired for their simplicity of design and sturdy craftsmanship, with form always following function. Over the years, their distinctive physical characteristics have invited as much study as imitation. Their clean, unadorned lines have been said to reflect core Shaker beliefs such as honesty, integrity, purity, and perfection. In this book, Henry Plummer focuses on the use of natural light in Shaker architecture, noting that Shaker builders manipulated light not only for practical reasons of illumination but also to sculpt a deliberately spiritual, visual presence within their space. Stillness and Light celebrates this subtly beautiful aspect of Shaker innovation and construction, captured in more than 100 stunning photographs.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-8


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pp. viii-x

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pp. xi-xii

To try to come to grips with a subject as elusive yet marvelous as the treatment of daylight in Shaker architecture, I have drawn upon two complementary media —writing and photography. Words examine ideas and thoughts, observations and analyses, about Shaker light, while images present the phenomena themselves, ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

From the outset I would like to thank Linda Oblack, editor at Indiana University Press, who responded to my initial inquiry with great enthusiasm and support, and has continued to provide enormous help in the conception and development of this book. ...

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pp. 1-11

The magnificent craftsmanship of the Shakers, who for two centuries were America’s most successful utopian society, gave visible form to a firm belief that usefulness and holiness are one and the same. There was no separation between practical and sacred values in this evangelical sect, ...

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1. Simplicity: Pristine Light

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pp. 12-29

The radical simplification produced by a single exterior color, characteristic of Shaker architecture, serves to unite each form, while accentuating the play of light over a surface, enveloping the whole in a subdued atmosphere. These monochromatic effects, free of either visual friction or excitement, ...

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2. Order: Focused Light

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pp. 30-47

The Shaker striving for order and calm gave a prominent visual role to the window, which often appears as the seminal force around which a room is developed. This centering power is magnified by simple geometry, symmetric placement, empty walls, and a halo-like frame, which are all further strengthened by a radiating pattern of light from a still source. ...

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3. Luminosity: Inner Light

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pp. 48-75

In their efforts to squeeze as much daylight as possible into buildings, Shakers pierced the outer walls with closely spaced windows, allowing illumination to stream in from every side. As the most sacred place in the Shaker settlement, and the nearest thing to heaven on earth, the meetinghouse was made especially airy and bright by a continuous band of repeating windows. ...

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4. Equality: Shared Light

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pp. 76-91

Transom windows, frequently placed by Shakers above inner as well as outer doors, provide a means to increase the light shared between neighboring rooms, and maintain this flow even when doors are fully closed. Interior transoms are typically set over doors connecting dark corridors and well-lit perimeter rooms, ...

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5. Time: Cyclic Light

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pp. 92-132

Pleasant Hill’s limestone dwellings are extremely responsive to shifting skies. Displayed upon their white volumes are all of the sun’s refracted colors, including faint hues often missed by the human eye. With its walls aligned to the cardinal points, each building behaves as a gnomon, ...


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pp. 133-134

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About the Author

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pp. 135-152

Henry Plummer is an architect and photographer, and currently Professor of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign, where he is also an associate of the Center for Advanced Study. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780253007780
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253353627

Page Count: 152
Illustrations: 124 color photos
Publication Year: 2009