New use of historic Shaker site: weaving ornaments

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair
Snowflakes and puffy hearts: Sandy Salada has a booth where she sells handmade holiday ornaments at the holiday market, which runs through Dec. 20, at the Shaker Heritage Society at 25 Meeting House Rd., Albany. Salada also teaches people to make these and other ornaments at workshops at the Shaker site.

ALBANY — What better place to learn to make a Christmas craft than the Shaker Heritage Society in Albany, the original home of the Shakers, who were renowned for their craftsmanship? 

Earlier this month, about 10 women took part in a workshop offered at the Shaker site, learning to make three Christmas ornaments by weaving thin maple strips or reeds into a snowflake, a puffy heart, and a reindeer. 

Sandy Salada is a basketweaver who teaches at many adult-education programs in the area, including Guilderland’s. 

She was an art major in college years ago, she said this week, until work and her family intervened. About 20 years ago, she said, she rediscovered her love for basketweaving when she took a course in Guilderland’s continuing-education program. Then, when that teacher retired, she took over, and has now been teaching there nearly every year since. 

A small band of British pacifists carved out their first settlement in the New World from the swampland and forests to make the Albany Shaker site, said Lorraine Weiss, the society’s education coordinator; the site was home to about 350 people at its height.

The Shakers were celibate and took an egalitarian view of the world, believing that men and women were equal, as were all races. This was “pretty radical” in the 1750s, said Weiss. They viewed God as being both male and female, she said. 

The Shakers had a thriving seed business, invented the flat broom, and wove baskets, Weiss said, adding, “One thing we do with workshops here is carry on the idea of craftsmanship.”

Anne Evers of Bethlehem said she signed up for the workshop to get herself into the holiday spirit. She plans to put the ornaments she made at the Shaker site on her own tree. She bought the materials, she said, to make more for presents. 

Christmas was a religious holiday for the Shakers from the start, said Weiss, but it was not originally a decorated holiday. “Over time, the Shakers took on more of the world’s cultural traditions, so they probably celebrated Christmas, giving gifts,” she said. 

Salada’s next workshop at the Shaker Heritage Society is Saturday, Dec. 14. Participants will make Scandinavian ornaments. 


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