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I first encountered the Shakers on Fifth Avenue, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in Gallery 734 to be precise. Wandering among the exhibits on a wet Sunday afternoon, I chanced upon the Shaker Retiring Room, a serene space antithetical to the vast and cacophonous city that lay a few dozen yards from its bare white walls and scrubbed pine floor. On display were a cast-iron stove, a washstand, a small bed, a writing desk, built-in wooden cupboards and a rocking chair. It was a room that reflected order, purity, simplicity and calm.