About the Exhibit
A Promising Venture
Shaker Photographs from the WPA
As part of the “New Deal” response to the Great Depression of the 1930’s, the federal government established the WPA (Works Progress Administration). In addition to infrastructure improvements performed by the CCC, the WPA oversaw the Federal Art Project, commissioning public works of art such as murals, easel paintings and sculptures. Seizing the opportunity to celebrate truly American art forms, the Federal Art Project also set out to catalog American design, dispatching watercolorists, easel artists, and photographers throughout the country to create portfolios for the Index of American Design. An early priority of the Index was the cataloging of Shaker furniture, architecture, and craft. Photographer Noel Vicentini visited Watervliet and Mount Lebanon, NY, as well as Hancock, MA. His work at all three sites was facilitated by seminal Shaker collectors, Faith and Edward Andrews. The whole collection of Vicentini’s photographs are housed at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. The vast majority of his work at Shaker sites will be shown at Hancock Shaker Village in 2012 and 2013, more than 75 years after he helped to endear the Shaker aesthetic in the minds of American citizens.
Sponsor a Frame
You can support this project by sponsoring a frame for the exhibition, which will help present this important work to our visitors and will enable the exhibition to travel after the autumn of 2013. Sponsors will receive a framed print of their choice from the images included in the exhibition, along with a gallery label acknowledging their contribution.
You can schedule a gallery talk with our Curator to learn about a this collection of little known and rarely exhibited photographs of the Shakers and their villages. Groups booking for more than 10 people should contact Maribeth Cellana at 413-443-0188 x 115 to make a reservation.
Digital Photographic Artistry Workshop
Instructor Fred LeBlanc will help students apply traditional photographic values, composition and story telling to the new era of digital photography, and will also cover new tools available in the digital realm, such as HDR (High Dynamic Range) settings and techniques. HDR allows for a greater range of exposures, capturing everything from dark shadows to bright highlights and combining them into a single image, offering tones and values beyond what can be achieved through a standard photograph.
Photographing the City of Peace Workshop
Hone your digital photography skills with Berkshire Eagle photographer Ben Garver, whose signature style and unique perspective on the Berkshires are widely known. This workshop includes classroom and field time, with ample opportunity to practice the techniques learned, using HSV as the subject. Together, participants and instructor will evaluate pictures’ strengths in subject and composition. Please bring your own digital camera.
When you visit the exhibit, pick up our Family Guide, designed for ages 6-12. Can you identify the photographs in the WPA Exhibit? What is the object? Which building would it be used in? Answer the clues and explore Hancock Shaker Village to see how the Shakers used simple design in their daily living.
Courtesy of the Vicentini FamilyThe obscure photographer named Noel A. Vicentini (sometimes spelled Vincentini) is something of an enigma. According to the U.S. Census records of 1930, he was born to a Italian father and a Spanish mother in Cuidad Bolivar, Venezuela on April 23, 1906. The family fled to the nearby island of Trinidad when the Gomez dictatorship came to power. Vicentini immigrated to the United States in 1924 and lived as a single lodger in New York City. He could read, write and speak English. His occupation is listed as “cameras” and industry as “manufacturer.” He was working for the Federal Art Project as a teacher and photographer from its outset in 1935 in New York City. He was a member of the faculty for the Design Laboratory, a WPA project whose purpose was to function as a free art school in order to train American designers in modern techniques to combine form, function and profitability. The first term started December 9, 1935 and ended June 30, 1936.
Cahill, writing about the Design Laboratory in January of 1936 stated that “The Index of American Design is a continuation of the work of the Design Laboratory, and was suggested by the work that was done in the Design Laboratory.” Vicentini was in demand as a photographer, as is evidenced by the fact that he was brought down to Washington in early 1936 seemingly to be transferred to the payroll on the Index’s Central Planning Project. Cahill, however, changed his mind and had Vicentini “designated as head of the photographic work of the Index in New York City, with a raise in salary.” The photographer was not always in the good graces of his government employers, however. In a telling letter between two Index marketing staff members one writes “The whole bunch Vicentini gave us are terrible in a small way. He didn’t take them himself. Miss Shalet is trying to get him to do a few good ones himself.”
Vicentini proved his worth to the Index’s Shaker portfolio in Massachusetts and New York, and was mentioned when it came time to document the Shaker sites in New Hampshire. Ruth Reeves wrote the following in a memo:
Gordon Smith says the photographs taken by the New Hampshire photographer at Canterbury are very bad, and this is a shame because the material there is simply beautiful. Vicentini should, with Hurlick, have a week there.
Unfortunately, as the Index guidelines became more firm as the project found its pace, artists were not allowed to work outside of their own states, so the New York photographers were never assigned to New Hampshire.
After his work on the Index, he enlisted in the United States Army on November 11, 1942, and became a sergeant during World War II. He died on August 24, 1963 and is buried at the Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale, New York.
Excerpted from the “A Promising Venture” exhibit catalog.