Historical Note


What began in 1929 as a summer home project for Irene and Julius Zieget became their thirty-year commitment to a collection that would epitomize the Shaker adage, "Hands to work, hearts to God."

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, JULIUS ZIEGET (1888-1966) was the second of Conrad and Dorothy Zieget's four children. He studied civil engineering at Cornell University (Ithaca, NY), and upon graduating in 1910, returned home to work as a highway engineer for the state. Zieget also taught engineering at the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. Around this time, he began studying law at the University of Maryland, but with America's entry into World War I, Zieget delayed any legal practice and joined the Naval Militia of the Maryland National Guard. Sent to a section base in the seaside town of Cape May, New Jersey, to serve as commanding officer, Zieget met Irene Norman at her friend's summer home. The couple were married around 1919 at the Unitarian Church in West Newton, Massachusetts.

IRENE ZIEGET (1885-1977) was born in Massachusetts (perhaps Plymouth). According to the 1910 federal census, Irene was a hospital nurse. According to her own account, she also served during the war and was stationed for a time in France. Soon after their marriage, the Ziegets moved to New York, where Julius worked at SKF Industries, a manufacturer of ball and roller bearings. It is here that Zieget met John Story Jenks, a trustee (and former officer) of the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art (the original name of the Philadelphia Museum of Art). Jenks recruited Zieget for the position of Secretary at the Museum, which he accepted in 1928. In 1934, Zieget took on the additional role of Treasurer, and in 1944, museum president R. Sturgis Ingersoll appointed Zieget as the first Executive Director of the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial. Formerly the Graphic Sketch Club, the Fleisher Memorial was founded by bequest to continue as an art school under the direction of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Zieget continued serving in these multiple capacities until his retirement in 1964.

In 1920, their only child Marcia was born. Around the same time, the Ziegets purchased "Breezy Hill," a large 18th century clapboard house situated on one hundred acres in Peterborough, NH. This would be their summer home for forty years. (The affluent Philadelphia suburb of Ardmore was their permanent residence.) In 1929, the Ziegets decided to redecorate one of the guest rooms at Breezy Hill with Shaker furniture and crafts. They made their first purchases--a Shaker bed and dining room chair from Edward Demings Andrews, who wrote about the Shakers and who along with his wife Faith were avid collectors from Pittsfield, MA. Andrews directed the Ziegets to the Hancock Society, a Shaker community near Pittsfield. It was the first of four Shaker villages the Ziegets would visit fairly regularly for nearly the next thirty summers. Of the other villages in Mt. Lebanon, NY, Canterbury, NH and Sabbathday Lake, NY, it was Canterbury that provided most of the Ziegets' acquisitions. (At Canterbury, the Ziegets also acquired pieces made in the Shaker villages of Enfield, NH and Union Village, Ohio, both of which closed before 1929.) In making their purchases, the Ziegets developed rather close relationships with several of the Shaker sisters and came to know their life stories as well as the history of their villages, founders and later elders who at one time were in possession of the objects the Ziegets acquired.

Of the Shaker sisters who helped the Ziegets develop their collection, MARGUERITE FROST (1892-1971) was the most instrumental. Sister Marguerite was born in Marblehead, MA, and was the granddaughter of the folk artist John Orne Johnson Frost, who at the age of 70 took up painting and wood carving. Sister Marguerite joined the Shaker village at Canterbury when she was 10. Eleven years later she began teaching until 1936 when she began working as a nurse in the infirmary. In 1957 she was named an eldress, and in 1966 appointed to the ministry. She wrote a number of articles on the Shakers, and as a young woman played the saxophone in a seven-piece Shaker orchestra.

Irene met Sister Marguerite during her first whirlwind Shaker excursion of 1929, coming to Canterbury after making stops at Hancock Village and Mt. Lebanon. In addition to the annual summer visits, Sister Marguerite and Irene corresponded throughout the year, even after the Ziegets stopped coming annually to Canterbury. During that first encounter with Sister Marguerite, along with Eldress Josephine Wilson, Irene purchased from them two baskets, an iron bucket, a wooden dipper, a chest of drawers, three handwoven rugs, closet pegs and three pictures. (In "Our Shaker Adventure," Irene's 1967 account of how she and her husband built their Shaker collection, she mentions also corresponding with Sister Rosetta Stephens of Mt. Lebanon from 1931 until the sister's death in 1947. The whereabouts of such correspondence is unknown.)

According to Irene, her summer visits to the Shaker villages during the "early years" were made alone as Julius (whom she referred to in letters as "Doc") was tied up in Museum business or preoccupied with supervising his daughter's riding lessons. There was also a period when neither made the trek. Between 1936 and 1938, the Ziegets summered in Europe. A cyclone in September 1938 damaged Breezy Hill, keeping the Ziegets away even longer. With the 1942 to 1944 gas rationing brought about by America's involvement in World War II, the Ziegets did not return to Breezy Hill until 1945 and could only open the house the following year. Despite their absence, the Ziegets' enthusiasm for collecting Shaker never waned, and in 1948 Julius decided the entire house should be furnished in the Shaker style. Their ambitious mission came to an abrupt halt in 1957 when the Ziegets learned that a highway was to be built that would divide their Breezy Hill property in half. The Ziegets thus decided to sell their longtime summer home. Yet, while having to give up Breezy Hill, the Ziegets did not give up on their Shaker collection. Based on Marguerite's letters to Irene, she was still making inquiries about Shaker items for purchase at least as late as 1961.

The next year, the Ziegets were one of the major lenders to "The Shakers: their arts and crafts," which the Philadelphia Museum of Art organized and exhibited from April 19 to May 20, 1962. Approximately 160 objects from the Ziegets' collection were on display. The Spring 1962 Museum Bulletin was devoted to the exhibition and included an essay by Sister Marguerite on Shaker prose and poetry as well as an exhibition checklist. The Ziegets made a gift of their collection to the Museum in December of 1963, just several months prior to Julius's retirement. Their gift consisted of more than 350 items, including furniture, inspirational drawings, utilitarian objects, such as oval boxes, buckets and brushes, costumes and textiles, rare books and manuscripts. Their daughter, Marcia Zieget Riegé (1920-1983), later gave the Museum's Library a number of rare books and contemporary scholarly studies of the Shakers.

Certain historical and divine names appear regularly in the manuscript material in this collection. A very rudimentary sketch of each follows. Most often cited is MOTHER ANN, or Ann Lee, who brought the Shaker faith to this country when she and eight others came to America in 1774 to escape persecution. They settled near Albany, NY (in an area that later became Watervliet, the first Shaker settlement in America). Before leaving England, Ann is believed to have experienced the second coming of Christ while she was in prison. When Ann recounted her vision to her fellow Shaker brothers and sisters, those present were also overcome with their own millennial experience. Because of this event, Sister Ann was considered the instrument of this second coming, or rebirth, and from that moment became known as Mother Ann. Also from that moment on, the Shakers would refer to themselves as "Believers in Christ's Second Appearing." Through Mother Ann and her numerous revelations, the guiding principles of Shakerism were established; namely, the confession of sin, a relinquishing of worldly goods (a simple lifestyle) and celibacy, all of which would lead to perfect holiness. In so doing, the Shakers "saw themselves...preparing the way for the new era when God's will was done on earth." By the time of Mother Ann's death in 1784, the number of converts to Shakerism had increased greatly, especially after the American Revolution. It is only after Mother Ann, that the Shakers, now persecuted in America, established communal lifestyles, in part as a measure of safety. The first was Mount Lebanon Shaker Society, in New Lebanon, NY. It would serve as the largest Shaker community from 1785 to 1947.

Shakers believe God is both father and mother, male and female. HOLY MOTHER WISDOM is the female aspect of God. From this belief in the duality of God comes the Shaker belief and practice in the equality of the sexes. During the Era of Manifestations (1837-1850), also known as the Era of Mother Ann's Work, certain members of the Shaker community, often children, were visited by heavenly spirits. These Shakers were considered "instruments" in delivering the spiritual gifts of song, dance and visions, which would be recorded sometimes in drawing but often in writing and later copied and passed on by other Shaker brothers and sisters. The purpose of these manifestations was to provide a "knowledge of heaven and those who dwell there, and to instruct how Believers should act and believe." During this period, the leaders of the Shaker faith (the Central Ministry) introduced what they hoped would be one way to establish a more structured ministry. It was the "cleansing gift," which was introduced in December 1841, just before the anticipated visit of Holy Mother Wisdom on Christmas Day. The ritual of the cleansing gift, called "Mother Ann's Sweeping Gift," consisted of prayer, fasting and intense cleaning, both literally and, along with singing and dancing, in pantomime. In her visit, which was intended to restore order and harmony, Holy Mother Wisdom dictated advice and rules and credited herself with being the "Infinite Wisdom."

FATHER JOSEPH refers to Joseph Meachem, a former Baptist minister from Enfield, CT (the site of his Shaker community, which was completely separate from the one in Enfield, NH). Upon the death in 1787 of James Whittaker, who assumed leadership after Mother Ann, Meachem became their religious head. He was the first American-born leader. It is Meachem who organized the existing Shaker settlements in New York and New England into bishoprics. Because of this uniting of communities, the Shakers altered their name to the "United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing."

Former Quakers JAMES WARDLEY and his wife Jane founded the Shakers in England in 1747. Originally called "Shaking Quakers," the Wardleys represented a sect that hoped to regain the ecstatic form of worship the Quakers had adopted from the 17th century French Prophets (or Camisards) but had since abandoned. The Wardleys preached a message of repent and preparation for Christ's second coming. They were the leaders at the time Ann Lee joined in 1758.

ABRAHAM OF OLD refers to the Old Testament figure considered the founding father of the Israelites, therefore making Christ his descendant (as in "seed of Abraham").

Works Consulted

Whitson, Robley Edward, ed. The Shakers: Two Centuries of Spiritual Reflection. New York: Paulist Press, 1983.

Kirk, John T. The Shaker World: Art, Life, Belief. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1997.

Zieget, Irene N. Our Shaker Adventure. Irene Zieget, 1967.

Zieget, Irene N. Julius Zieget: a Sketch. Ardmore, PA, 1960.

Ancestry: Library Edition. 1900 United States Federal Census, s.v. "Julius Zieget." Ancestry.com.

_____. California, Death Index, 1940-1997, s.v. "Irene N. Zieget." _____.

_____. California, Death Index, 1940-1997, s.v. "Marcia Zieget Riege." _____.

Davenport, Tom and Frank DeCola. "The Shakers." Tom Davenport Films, 1974. folkstreams.net (accessed Mar. 14, 2013)

Hercher, Gail Pike. "J.O.J. Frost: the man with a wheelbarrow full of art." Marblehead Magazine. Legends Inc., copyright 1995-2007.