When I sought out to study extra concerning the benches used within the church buildings of The Community of True Inspiration what I found was a hidden gem of humble craftsmanship tucked away within the unassuming villages of Amana, IA. What excites me is the forensic side of discovering the benches’ craftsmanship and particulars within the context of their historical past and continued, nearly every day use for over 170 years.
The Amana Colonies
The Amana Colonies consists of seven totally different communities settled alongside the Iowa River valley, west of Iowa City, IA. The founders of the neighborhood fled non secular persecution in Germany and settled in Ebenezer, NY (what’s now West Seneca, NY) round 1843. Cautious of city enlargement within the Buffalo space, and the worldly influences that may exert on their members, the elders sought land west, and settled in what’s now Amana starting in 1855. Yet, in these quick 12 years the neighborhood had constructed up a excessive degree of infrastructure essential to help their membership throughout a number of villages. Blacksmiths, woolen mills, cupboard retailers, locksmiths, watchmakers, bakeries, mainly all the pieces crucial for small city life in early 19th century America. An outdated map of Ebenezer that hangs within the Middle Amana church exhibits a nearly equivalent structure to the seven present-day villages in Amana. In 1855 when the neighborhood moved to Iowa, all the pieces besides the buildings got here alongside on the journey, together with seemingly a number of hundred church benches.
The Original Benches
The surviving benches could be present in three extant church buildings which are nonetheless used right now for worship. Each village had its personal church, however some church buildings have been deserted or offered, so the benches discovered their manner into different church buildings, storage, museums, and even repurposed for different church use.
The first benches I encountered and studied have been within the Amana Heritage Society Museum, getting used of their small lecture room. This first encounter taught me that no two benches are alike, however on the identical time, they’re all constructed to the identical primary plan. Legs that penetrate a batten and seat, often three again splats that terminate under the batten with a pegged joint and are available to relaxation on a again leg, and a crest rail.
But it wasn’t till I visited the church in Middle Amana that I received an opportunity to actually examine the benches up shut with the assistance of Amana historian and church member Peter Hoenle, the place we spent the higher a part of a day partially dismantling a bench as a way to additional examine its joinery.
Let’s begin on the ground and work up. The legs are often turned spherical, however many benches had faceted legs labored by a drawknife or spokeshave, some are totally octagonal. All legs are tapered. Rake and splay are all around the map. All benches had at the very least some rake back and front, however many had no splay. The legs have been vertical when considered from the entrance or again. Some benches with a 3rd set of legs within the center used solely a single leg with no rake or splay.
The leg we faraway from the seat was tapered, and on most benches we noticed related tapering on the leg tenons. Some tenons are sawn with a X formed kerf and wedges pushed in. All legs move fully by means of the batten and seat.
The battens be part of to the seat with a sliding dovetail. Sometimes this dovetail pierces the entrance fringe of the seat (as in my bench) however on some benches it stops quick. A extra time consuming joint to create.
The entrance edges of some benches are additionally rounded below. This wouldn’t have an effect on the consolation of the bench. It’s a design ingredient.
The again of the battens are practically all the identical. A by means of mortise homes the narrowed tenon of the splat because it passes by means of the batten’s mortise. Most benches function the notch behind the seat to simply accept the splat, however some don’t.
The splat’s tenon is pegged in place from under the batten. Some pegs enter from the facet (the design I selected to make use of) and a few from the again. Some pegs are spherical, whereas others are sq..
The splats are all very related above the seat. But under we see some variations. It appears the craftsmen weren’t too involved with precision the place the tenon involves relaxation in opposition to the again of the legs. Some are extraordinarily exact, whereas others fully miss the leg. Amazingly, these benches have held up. This joint is extraordinarily sturdy, even when executed poorly.
The splats be part of the crest rail with a full width tenon, which is often strengthened with two pegs, which could be spherical or sq. in form. The tenon we dismantled got here aside simply. There was little or no proof that glue was used.
The crest rail is often a easy rectangle with sq. minimize ends. But some benches function an ogee form minimize into one or each ends of the bench. For benches with just one ogee (and these have been at all times shorter) we guessed these have been paired with one other bench with an ogee on the other finish, with the sq. minimize ends butting collectively in a row.
The cleaning soap end on the benches has taken on a whitish solid in areas that don’t get put on. But on the higher elements of the bench, particularly the seat floor and entrance face of the crest, essentially the most unimaginable burnished texture has developed between the early and late wooden from 170 years of fixed use. It’s actually fairly a good looking factor to see and contact. Not one thing that may be duplicated outdoors of time.
It’s straightforward to view these objects merely as items of furnishings. But I used to be continuously conscious of their sacred function and the hundreds of souls who’ve used them through the necessary life occasions an individual can expertise, and that introduced an excellent sense of respect and humility to my time learning the benches.
Amana Church Bench
A lesson in referential measuring
A Short History of Benches