PITTSFIELD -- Walnut arms curve smoothly in a chandalier. A wooden clasp glides apart, and a brown oak box opens to show a row of teabags. Shakers did drink tea. But here with a sewing table and golden-grained wall cabinet stands a computer desk.
At Hancock Shaker Village, curator Lesley Herzberg has put Shaker traditional design in the hands of contemporary master woodworkers.
As the village preapres to welcome artists and crafters in this weekend's annual fair, "Wood Works" shows substantial objects made with care and simplicity.
"Shaker furniture is like a precurser to Modern," said Matt Kenney, an editor at Fine Woodworking magazine with work in the show. "If you look at mid-century or Danish Modern [woodworking], it looks a lot like Shaker."
The Shakers stripped away ornament, he said. They looked for the function of a chest of drawers or a cupboard, and then they considered the ideal form needed to fulfil it. They mastered how to organize and proportion doors, drawers, asymmetric designs.
Shaker woodwork has clean lines.
"The shape and the lines give it beauty," he said. "The proportions give it beauty."
He first came to Hancock Shaker Village with Christian Becksvoort -- a contributing editor to Fine Woodworking and a woodworker near the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in Maine, who also has work in this fall's show -- to work on a story for their Dec. 2012 magazine. Herzberg showed them around the village and behind the scenes.
This fall Kenney, Becksvoort and Michael Pekovich, art director for Fine Woodworking, have returned in a group show of six woodworkers at the village through October. They join Timothy Rieman, an old friend of the village who has co-written two books about Shaker furniture with Jean Burks; A. Thomas Walsh, a furniture maker based in West Stockbridge; and Steve Grasseli, who teaches woodworking workshops at Hancock Shaker Village.
Sometimes they have followed Shaker designs closely, and sometimes they have improvized more freely, Herzberg said.
She smiled, explaining Rieman's "Spare Parts 2." His table seems made from parts of Shaker chairs. Rieman made each piece as a replica of a different Shaker style, even to the metalwork for a wheel at the foot of one let, and assembled them into a kind of crazy-quilt piece Herzberg enjoys for its skill and whimsy.
Along with a white pine Enfield cupboard, Kenney has contributed some of the smallest works in the show -- a series of round wooden boxes inspired by the Round Stone Barn and by Shaker oval boxes. His are turned wood painted in earthy fall colors, bronze and corn yellow and dark blue.
He made them for this show, and this is the only place to find them, Herzberg said.
He has also offered a walnut double box, one he made as part of a series with proportions determined by the golden ratio. He has played with the design, he said, to find a form he likes.
Like all of the woodworkers in this show, he has relied on local woods -- eastern white pine; maple, which turns well; dark walnut and red-gold cherry, striking in color; apple wood for crisp detail; open-pored white oak. He has a feel for their textures and strengths, hardness or softness, smoothness or porous surfaces.
He has worked with wood all his life.
"My dad's a contractor," he said. "I grew up in Florida, making skate board ramps and tree forts," the kinds of things boys make.
In graduate school he wanted to make his wife a box to hold her gardening supplies, as they moved from one apartment to another. He made it from wood, taking care over the joinery, and got hooked again on the craft.
From there he went on to make small things for his family. He made his daughter's crib. He was teaching philosophy classes as a graduate student, and one of his students noticed that he often talked about woodworking as a metaphor for philosophical ideas.
She told Kenney her father was a professional woodworker who thought of himself as a philosopher, and she introduced them. The woodworker, Joe Mazurek, invited Kenney into his workshop and Kenney began to work there, learning from him -- sometimes as much as 10 hours a day, while he was still teaching.
Fine Woodworking has given him a chance to shift his focus fully.
"Now I'm building things all the time," he said. "Every article is like a small class with an accomplished furniture maker."
He and the magazine will continue to look for opportunities to work with Hancock Shaker Village, Kenney said, and will gladly show up for events like the woodworking weekend earlier this month. They came to demonstrate and talk about woodworking
In all the history of furniture, Shaker comes high among his favorites, and to talk with people who love it as he does warmed and enriched him.
"There's no better way to pass on a passion than to meet in person," he said.
If you go ...
What: ‘Wood Works Revisited' group show of contemporary woodwork inspired by Shaker design in the Poultry House gallery
Where: Hancock Shaker Village, Routes 20 and 41, Pittsfield
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Nov. 2
What: Annual Country Fair with horse-drawn wagon rides, chicken races and old-fashioned games, art and crafts, farmers market
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday
Admission: $18 for adults, $17 for seniors, $8 for children age 13 to 17, free for children 12 and under
Information: (413) 443-0188, hancockshakervillage.org