Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Shaker Beauty Part One: Hands to Work

"Put your hands to work and your hearts to God."
--Mother Ann, prominent Shaker

I'm in a Shaker village in the Berkshires all this week, working on a photo shoot. The village is perfectly preserved and gorgeous. I've been snooping around the herb gardens, and the "well-being room," studying up on Shaker bathing and grooming practices, and looking for old recipes for ointments, lotions and tonics. I'll be writing more about all that here in the next few days. But first:

Yesterday the photographer wanted a pair of hands in a shot. But whose? Every woman on the set began to protest, not me my hands are a mess, all my nails are broken; I've got actual age spots, I mean really what are these things; I've got hands like a man...

My problem was not man hands, but witch nails. My nails are superhard and grow like weeds. If left untended, as they often are-- even for a week-- I grow long claws. We finally got someone in the shot. Until I gather some Shaker recipes for hand cream, all I can do is acknowledge the problem:

"Smooth, well-cared for fingertips convey an impression of smart spruceness. Hands are always in evidence-- across a table, around a cocktail glass, at a bridge game, at a desk-- and when well-groomed they mark a girl as up-to-date and fastidious, Of course, a girl may have sterling qualities and yet not have the good habit of caring for her nails, but neglect in this one detail may give other people the impression that she is slovenly and careless in everything."
--Mary MacFadyen, M.D., Beauty Plus (1938)

and advise:

"Use liquid powder on the hands if they are red, or green powder may be used on them to complete an evening toilette. This gives red hands an elegant and ethereal appearance."
--Sonja Joslen,
The Way to Beauty (1937)