Jugs for making cider, which is among the 44 workshops offered this summer. Photo courtesy of the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village

This summer, Sabbathday Shaker Village is offering 44 hands-on workshops, including sessions on woodcarving, making brooms and Shaker-style chairs, hooking rugs, weaving baskets, cold-pressing soaps, spinning fiber, pressing flowers and making jellies, mustard, cheese and hard cider.

“We keep it busy here,” said office manager Jamie Ribisi-Braley. “We work with local crafters and makers who like to share their craft and we tie it to traditional crafts or things the Shakers may have made in the past.”

The world’s last active Shaker community, Sabbathday Lake is a productive place – despite having dropped from a population of 200 down to two and back up to three with a new member choosing the Shaker life last year. In addition to maintaining an apple orchard, vegetable gardens, hay fields, a commercial herb garden, a flock of sheep and a variety of livestock, the Shakers and their supporters run a museum and gift shop and host an open farm day (July 28), a Maine Native American summer market and demonstration (Aug. 24), a harvest festival (Oct. 12) and a Shaker Christmas fair (Dec. 7).

A fun way to more deeply connect with Shaker culture is to take up a traditional folk craft or make the stuff of everyday life with your own hands. More than two centuries ago, Mother Ann Lee set forth a guiding principle of this community, saying, “Put your hands to work and give your hearts to God.”

Carding wool is one way to embrace the Shaker lifestyle while visiting the community in New Gloucester. Photo courtesy of Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village

“We try to feature as many different craft workshops related to Shaker traditions as possible, as well as some classes that emphasize creativity,” said executive director Michael Graham. “Folks really enjoy the classes that teach them how to do something. It’s not just about the final product but the experience of going through the process. It’s a nice departure from the digital age.”

Six of the historic buildings at Sabbathday Lake are used as a public museum, with 27 rooms of exhibits sharing 236 years of Shaker heritage in Maine. Visitors learn about Shaker inventions, including the flat broom, circular saw blade, spring clothespin, chair tilter buttons and paper seed envelope. They learn about Shaker traditions, such as shape note singing (which is featured in an afternoon performance June 1, attracting singers from all over New England who use this historic form of music notation that assigns geometric note heads for a cappella arrangements, such as hymns). And they learn about the people who chose – and continue to choose – the Shakers’ simple, celibate and faith-based community as a way of life.


The heart of the Shaker experience is worship, and visitors are welcome to attend the Sunday Meeting – or worship service – at 10 a.m. at the 1794 Meeting House. On the average week, a couple dozen people attend, experiencing Bible readings, hymns and spontaneous expressions of faith.

“People just stand up and give their testimony,” said Ribisi-Braley, a frequent attendee. “It’s very personal.”

Music is at the core of Shakers’ worship, and Shakers have had a significant impact on American music, as demonstrated through The Festival of American Music, a collaboration between the Shaker Village and the Portland String Quartet. This four-day event, June 19-22, includes a series of concerts highlighting American composers and the influence of Shaker music.

“The concerts are in our 1789 meeting house, which has remarkable acoustics by design,” Graham said. “And it’s fascinating to hear Portland String Quartet’s rendition of the Shaker song ‘Simple Gifts’ played in conjunction with something by Bach.”

Occasional two-hour nature tours explore some of the village’s 1,800 acres, focusing on topics such as indigenous species, geology and land use and management. These are free but require advance registration to keep groups small.

For an immersive spiritual experience, the Shakers offer single-gender retreats. For women, there’s “Learning About and Living in a Shaker Community,” June 24-27; “Shaker Gift Drawings,” July 29-Aug. 3, or “Living the Shaker-Like Life,” Oct. 18-22. For men, there’s “Let It Pass, Let It Pass and Labor for a Gift of God,” Sept. 6-10.

The Shaker Village, at 707 Shaker Road in New Gloucester, opens for the season May 25, Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., through Columbus Day. The grounds are closed to the public on Sundays, other than visitors attending the worship service. The village is on Route 26, about 8 miles north of Exit 63 on the Maine Turnpike in Gray, and 8 miles west of Exit 75 (Auburn). The village is about 25 miles north of Portland. While traveling Route 26, other attractions include the Maine Wildlife Park, Poland Spring Resort and Preservation Society, and McLaughlin Garden & Historic Homestead.

For more information, go to www.maineshakers.com.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. 

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