BLINN, HENRY CLAY
one of the most influential Shaker leaders of his generation, was skilled in many pursuits. Born in Providence, Rhode Island, where he was apprenticed to a jeweler, heentered the community at Canterbury, New Hampshire, in 1838. In addition to presiding as an elder for most of the second half of the nineteenth century, he served atvarious times as a printer and typesetter; publisher and editor of
the Shaker Society’s monthly journal; author; schoolteacher; chronicler of communityhistory; beekeeper; dentist; tailor; maker and repairer of tinware; cabinetmaker; and mapmaker. Although only three maps of Shaker villages may be attributed to him(one each for Canterbury; Watervliet, New York; and New Lebanon, New York) they are among the most important examples of the genre.Robert P.Emlen has demonstrated that the making of illustrated maps was a characteristic feature of Shaker life in the nineteenth century. Intended as detailedrecords of the built and natural environments, these village views or plans often include other valuable information about the communities, as Shaker mapmakerstypically shared their methods with one another. David Austin Buckingham (1803–1885) of Watervliet, creator of a meticulous view of his own community, may haveinfluenced Blinn’s approach to cartography. In the hands of skillful draftsmen like Blinn, Buckingham, or Joshua Bussell (1816–1900) of Alfred, Maine, the mapstranscended their purpose as utilitarian documents and became works of art. This is especially true when the mapmaker introduces watercolor, to animate thedepictions of buildings, trees, and flowering plants, as Blinn does in two of his three drawings. According to Emlen, Blinn’s 1848 map of Canterbury, which is almostseven feet in length, is the largest and most elaborate of all Shaker village views. With captions in a variety of ornamental lettering, as well as stylized representations of orchards, gardens, and other dramatic and colorful flourishes, the map presents a complete picture of a large community at the height of its development.Of Blinn’s efforts as a cabinetmaker several pieces survive, including a handsome sewing desk, dating about 1870, of butternut and contrasting woods, porcelainknobs, and an inscription documenting Blinn as the maker. He is also credited with making a dining table, a slant-front desk, a large secretary, and a number of other pieces. Blinn’s cabinetry belongs to the later period in Shaker furniture production, when an interest in ornamentation resulted in a loss of the spare simplicitycharacterizing the earlier work.
Joshua Bussell; Cora Helena Sarle;
Shaker Furniture; Shakers
Emlen, Robert P.
Shaker Village Views: Illustrated Maps and Landscape Drawings by Shaker Artists of the Nineteenth Century.
Hanover, N.H., 1987.
In Memoriam, Elder Henry C.Blinn, 1824–1905.
Concord, N.H., 1905Rieman, Timothy D., and Jean M.Burks.
The Complete Book of Shaker Furniture.
New York, 1993