Maine's two Shaker communitied consolidated in 1931 in response to dwindling resources and numbers. That year the twenty-one Shakers remaining at Alfred joined their fellow Believers at Sabbathday Lake (or New Gloucester). With the closing of Alfred Shaker Village and the sale of its properties to the Brothers of Christian Instruction, a Roman Catholic teaching order, the continous Shaker presence in the town, which could be traced back almost 150 years, came to an end.
Today few of the Shaker buildings at Alfred survive, and those that remain have been substantially altered. Joshua Bussell's detailed drawings of Alfred Shaker Village provide the only complete visual record of this place, which the Shakers called "Holy Land." Bussell also created drawings of the Shaker community at New Gloucester, its subsidiary Poland Hill family, and Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire. The artist, who came to the Shakers in 1829, was a cobbler by trade.
In keeping with the principles of community organization in the United Society of Believers, Shaker villages were composed of "families," consisting of a mere handful to well over one hundred members, each having its own leadership, economic interests, and property in common. Bussell served as elder of Alfred's Second Family; his painting, despite the misleading inscription on the reverse, depicts the Alfred Church Family as it appeared about 1880. The Church Family was the location of the meetinghouse; it is the gambrel-roofed structure marked "6" in the drawing. Earlier in Shaker history, only the meetinghouse would have been painted white. By 1880 that practice had come to an end.
During the 1830s and 1840s, the Shaker central leadership at New Lebanon, New York, encouraged the drafting of illustrated mapsor site plans of the Shaker communities in order to record the location of dwellings, shops, barns, pastures, orchards, and other features of the natural and built environments. Initially, gifted Shaker draftsmen created documentary records with meticulous detail but little artistic expression. Bussell, whose first drawing is dated 1845, carried the tradition later into the nineteenth century than any other Shaker artist. By the 1880s his early diagrammatic renderings had evolved into fully developed paintings.
Gerard C. Wertkin, "View of the Church Family, Alfred, Maine," in Stacy C. Hollander, American Radiance: The Ralph Esmerian Gift to the American Folk Art Museum (New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with American Folk Art Museum, 2001), 524.