Elder William Anderson was a prominent member of the diminishing Shaker sect residing near Mount Lebanon, New York, on the site of the Shakers' original settlement in the 1700s. Raised in New York City, Anderson reportedly arrived in Mount Lebanon seeking "new adventures." Among other responsibilities there, he oversaw the colony's chairmaking business for forty years and was a respected leader of the community.
When Ulmann photographed Anderson, he was deaf and nearly blind. Here his hands rest upon the pages of a large book held on his lap: he may be reading the book in Braille. Anderson sits tall and upright, a distinguished figure in a simple shirt and suit who appears to be facing either into the distant past or into the future of his approaching death.