Hancock Shaker Village: The Shaker's Private Art
June 24, 2000 to April 2, 2001, Hancock Shaker Village presents the first
major museum exhibition to explore the spiritual meaning and social
context of Shaker gift drawings, an inspired and little understood body of
drawings, largely created by women, that in the middle decades of the 19th
century which captured on paper a fervent outpouring of Shaker religious
Seen and Received highlights Hancock Shaker Village's own
collection of gift drawings, which has not been seen as a whole in over a
decade. With fewer than 200 gift drawings extant in public and private
collections throughout the world, the Hancock collection is notable for
twenty-five drawings of exceptional quality, range and scale. These works
on paper will be exhibited only on a rotating basis, following the showing
of Seen and Received.
The gift drawings in the Hancock collection were created by women, and Seen
and Received sheds new light on the lives of the seven
"instruments" or artists represented. While members of the
United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing (as the Shakers
called themselves) strove for equality between the sexes, they followed
traditional and separate roles. The fruits of women's labor in the
kitchen, laundry and sewing room did not have the same longevity as
did the furniture, woodenware and architecture produced by men. Drawings
were not part of daily life like the products of men's work and most
were kept privately by the Ministry. The drawings were taken out of
storage for special occasions and interpreted as religious works and many
were destroyed by the Shakers themselves in the later decades of the 19th
century. For these and other reasons, most major exhibitions of Shaker
artifacts have tended to focus on the products of men's work.
highlight of the exhibition is the most famous of all gift drawings,
Hannah Cohoon's boldly colored red and green fruit tree entitled The
Tree of Life (1854). Reflective of the less familiar works on view are
two sacred sheets created by Semantha Fairbanks in 1843. Fairbanks
recorded the messages she received in "spirit writing," setting
them down in all directions on the page in ornamental, even obsessive,
flourishes of a flowing black and blue monochrome script.
Exhibited for the first time in Seen and Received is a small
blue pen and-ink drawing entitled Dove with Rings (n.d.) by an
unidentified instrument. The work was found tucked inside a Shaker song
manuscript donated to the Village in 1978. As a testimony to the
remarkable outpouring of the spirit, seven heart-shaped, pen and ink paper
cutouts by Polly Jane Reed are displayed. Reed received loving messages
for many of her brethren and sisters from Shakers who had gone on before,
and transcribed these blessings onto hearts for as many as 148 Shakers in
Providing a broader context for the gift drawings is a selection of
artifacts from Hancock's permanent collection of nearly 20,000 objects.
These include hand-drawn maps and color drawings of the village views
including a map of the Church family's building and grounds at Hancock
from 1820, a fine 12-foot trestle table made of cherry, fancy embroidery,
music manuscripts, and examples of the special blue and white apparel worn
to worship meetings in the 19th century.
Photos of: The Tree of Life, Hannah Cohoon, 1854.
East View of the Brick House, Church Family Hancock, Unknown, ca.