Anything but Simple: Shaker Gift Drawings and the Women Who Made Them
May 12 – September 3, 2018
Opening in May 2018, Hancock Shaker Village will exhibit its rare Shaker “gift” or “spirit” drawings for the first time in decades. Mysterious, decorative, and ornate (the opposite of what we think of as Shaker design, which is experiencing strong interest currently), the drawings were not shared outside the Shaker community. The Shakers’ ban on ornamentation exempted the drawings, because they were never meant to be displayed. The work is startling and complicated, unique to the Shakers and to American religious culture as a whole. The gift drawing collection (1843-1857) at Hancock is widely considered one of the finest, containing 25 of the 200 gift drawings extant in public and private collections today. It is thought that hundreds more drawings once existed, but were destroyed by the Shakers when their creators died. Anything but Simple includes the most famous gift drawing – Hannah Cohoon’s 1854 Tree of Life — and examines the drawings as they relate to women and their role as spiritual “instruments” in Shaker communities in the mid-19th century.
Dense with detail, colorful, and ornamental, these drawings are not what we have come to expect of Shaker visual culture. But then again, the Shakers were radical, with an optimistic faith in human betterment and the possibility to obtain utopia on earth through hard work, utility, integrity, and dedication. At their peak in the early 19th century, there were perhaps 6,000 members scattered in some 20 villages from Maine to Kentucky. It’s remarkable to think that such a small sect left such a legacy of design and moral clarity.
Curator talk 3pm and opening reception at 4:30pm Saturday, May 12; FREE TO MEMBERS/$10 NOT-YET MEMBERS
Generously supported by Balance Rock Investment Group and The Dobbins Foundation.
Silo Songs, a sound art project in the historic silo
Beginning June 10, 2018
Inspired by rare Shaker hymnals and musical manuscripts dating to 1818 from the libraries at Hancock Shaker Village and Williams College, Grammy-award winning composer Brad Wells has created Silo Songs, a new permanent sound art installation that offers visitors an immersive musical experience inside one of the museum’s restored silos. The contemporary score is sung by Sam Amidon, Rhiannon Giddens, Eamon O’Leary, and Caroline Shaw, who capture the ecstatic feel of Shaker worship services and suggest the feeling that Mother Ann’s original singing evoked in her followers in which “the spacious apartment would ring with beautiful songs which no man could learn.”
The Shakers were wellsprings of creativity in many fields, and the fact that their legacy endures two hundred years later when at their height they only numbered some 6,000 members is a testament to the profound beauty, simplicity, and complexity of their worldview. Known for their minimal design, and early commitment to social reform and innovation in agriculture, industry, and education, they are less known for their impact on music in America. The Shakers wrote thousands of radiant, heart-rousing songs – while bringing cows in from the fields, when they were worshiping, while washing clothes – that have had a tremendous impact on the American musical canon. Simple Gifts, for example, immortalized by Aaron Copeland, is a Shaker tune. Music played a central role in Shaker worship and life – from early songs that expressed pure, wordless emotion, to later hymns that reflected the political, social, and emotional fabric of the times. Their songs contain the distillation of two centuries of Shaker music and art – remarkable in its power and quiet beauty, and a much needed respite in today’s world, and a testament to the extraordinary Shaker vision of simplicity, proportion, and harmony. Brad Wells takes these songs and brings them to life in an enduring, celebratory, contemporary way – and how fitting that the sound work is being created in an historic silo, an iconic symbol of rural preservation and sustainability.
An integral part of the rural landscape, our two wooden silos were erected in 1908 to store feed corn for livestock. While many wooden silos across America have succumbed to disrepair or suburban sprawl (they haven’t been built since 1942, when fiberglass silos were introduced), the two at Hancock Shaker Village stand tall as ‘silent sentinels,’ beautiful icons of the culture of rural preservation and farming in America. Attached to the Dairy Ell of the historic Round Stone Barn, they have been restored and for the first time, visitors will be able to go inside one of the silos, which will house Brad Wells’ Silo Songs.
About the artist
Conductor, singer, composer and Roomful of Teeth Founder/Artistic Director, Brad Wells directs the choral program, oversees and teaches studio voice, and leads courses in conducting, arranging and voice science and style at Williams College. He previously held conducting positions at Yale University, Trinity College, and UC Berkeley, and has directed choirs that have appeared throughout North and South America, South Africa, and Europe. In 2007, Wells commissioned and led the Williams Concert Choir in the world premiere in Palestrina, Italy, of Judd Greenstein’s Lamenting, a work based on Renaissance composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s settings of Hebrew letters from his Lamentations. A champion of Estonian choral music, Brad has led the US premieres of works by numerous Estonian composers. As a singer, he has performed and recorded with such ensembles as Paul Hillier’s Theatre of Voices, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, and the California Choral Company. In 1998, he was the recipient of the Aidan Kavanagh Achievement Prize from the Yale Institute of Sacred Music.
Opening reception Saturday, June 9, 5-7pm; FREE TO MEMBERS/$10 NOT-YET MEMBERS
Major support provided by Anonymous, Carmela and Paul Haklisch, Martha Boschen Porter Fund, Northern Berkshire Cultural Council, Pittsfield Cultural Council
HENRY KLIMOWICZ, ABELARDO MORELL, and MARKO REMEC
On view July 7, 2018
Three contemporary artists working in diverse media explore Shaker landscapes, objects, and sustainability.
We are activating the site with contemporary art installations consistent with Shaker ethics and aesthetics.
Opening reception Saturday, July 7, 5-7pm; FREE TO MEMBERS/$10 NOT-YET MEMBERS
Monodic Flow (Field Totem)
April – December 2018
“I saw a vision … and I felt the power of God flow into my soul like a fountain of living water.” –Mother Ann Lee
Conceptual artist Marko Remec will install a bright addition to the fields of Hancock Shaker Village this season. The artist will bring his 32 inch domed mirrors to the village, creating a path in the field next to the Meetinghouse on the north side of Route 20. The path of mirrors will echo the underground aqueducts laid by the Shakers in the early 19th century to carry water from the reservoir to the village. Each mirror reflects 180 degree views of the landscape and buildings at Hancock Shaker Village, and will offer drivers on Route 20 a shiny enticement to stop and see what’s new at Hancock.
About the artist
Marko Remec is a conceptual sculptor living and working in New York City with his wife and two children. Remec graduated with degrees in Studio Art and Chemistry from Williams College and earned his MBA from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. A keen observer of the human condition, Remec translates his firsthand experience to conceptual sculpture with wry yet playful wit.
Remec’s work has been recently shown at museums and sculpture parks such as Mass MoCA, LongHouse Reserve, Chesterwood, Museo de Arte de Ponce, and the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, among other locales.