Sarah Bates


led a long and creative life as a member of the Shaker Society at New Lebanon, New York. The daughter of Elder Issachar Bates, one of early Shakerism’s mostimportant leaders, she was born in Hartford, New York, and entered the Shaker community at Watervliet, New York, in 1808 following her father’s conversion to theShaker faith. Three years later she moved to New Lebanon, the seat of the central authority of the church (more formally known as the United Society of Believers),where she resided for the rest of her life. As a Shaker sister, Bates was trained as a schoolteacher and “tailoress,” and was closely associated in both pursuits withanother gifted member of the community, Polly Ann (Jane) Reed (1818–1881). Bates and Reed were members of the First Order of the Church, one of several“families” in New Lebanon.In the mid-nineteenth century, the Shaker communities entered a period of intense religious revival (1837–c. 1859) that is known to Shaker history as the “Era of Manifestations” or “Era of Mother’s Work.” A characteristic of this period was its openness to visionary phenomena (trances, spirit communications, and prophecy)and to the reception of spiritual “gifts” in the form of messages, songs, and drawings. Daniel W. Patterson’s attribution to Sarah Bates of seventeen drawings, whichshare similar iconography, compo sition, and stylistic details, is convincing but circumstantial, based primarily on his analysis of the membership of the First Order of theChurch. The calligraphy and drawing are as precise and elegant as Polly Reed’s; indeed, it is clear that the two artists influenced each other’s work.Patterson has suggested that a number of telltale signs may be associated with Bates’ drawings: the head of the hovering dove that often appears in her work has adistinctive bulblike shape; one of the wings of the dove in flight is thrust out “like the arm of a swimmer”; and the surfaces of tree trunks and tables are covered withcrosshatching. Several of Bates’ most complex drawings are in the form of “sacred sheets” (large gatherings of symbolic language) with direct appropriations from thevisual culture of the world outside the Shaker communities, including Masonic iconography, gravestone design, and needlework samplers.
See also
Gravestone Carving; Polly Ann Reed; Religious Folk Art; Samplers, Needlework; Shaker Drawings; Shakers; Visionary Art
Morin, France, ed.
Heavenly Visions: Shaker Gift Drawings and Gift Songs.
New York, 2001.Patterson, Daniel W.
Gift Drawing and Gift Song: A Study of Two Forms of Shaker Inspiration.
Sabbathday Lake, Maine, 1983.Promey, Sally M.
Spiritual Spectacles: Vision and Image in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Shakerism.
Bloomington, Ind., 1993