Shaker Crafts And Furniture Are Focus Of Hudson River Museum Exhibtion, Crafting Utopia, June 14 To September 27
YONKERS, NEW YORK. May 29, 2003-The Hudson River Museum announces Crafting Utopia: The Art of Shaker Women, opening June 14, and on view through September 27. This is the exhibition's only east coast appearance.
Shakers have most often been seen through their architecture, furniture, textiles and wooden wares - the work of male members - with less attention to Shaker women. Crafting Utopia celebrates the role of Shaker Sisters in the life and work of their religious communities. It was a woman, Mother Ann Lee, who was the guiding, charismatic force that led the Shakers to New York from England on the eve of the Revolutionary War.
The Shakers were widely known in the nineteenth century as America's largest and most successful communal, religious and utopian sect. They rejected the pageantry of the English churches and believed that men and women and all races were equal. In lives dedicated to agrarian work and the manufacture of the spare and beautiful objects they used in their daily tasks, men and women lived separately. Their belief that men and women were equal made possible their vision of God, who was both Mother and Father, a radical notion for this time.
They farmed in 24 large communities throughout the eastern United States from the late eighteenth century until the mid-twentieth century.
Four years after the Revolutionary War, the Shaker community at New Lebanon, in New York's Columbia County, became the central leadership for the spreading sect, whose other communities emulated the architecture, craftsmanship and organization of daily life created at New Lebanon. At their peak in the 1850s, 4,000 to 6,000 members lived in Shaker communities.
Crafting Utopia originates from the collection of the Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, a living history museum of Shaker life, crafts and farming. This exhibition at the Hudson River Museum includes over 100 objects women used in their daily work - sewing tables, a spinning wheel, spool racks for thread, tape looms, apple peelers, carpets, baskets and basket molds, plus costumes, textiles, furnishings and graphics for Shaker products. In later years, when Shaker women outnumbered men, the Sisters were closely involved in chair production, and several examples are on view.
Among the factors that influenced the decline of Shaker members, first seen in the 1860s, were the celibate life they practiced and the opportunities offered by the post-Civil War Industrial Revolution. Fewer converts were attracted to the spare, celibate agrarian life of the Shaker communities and by 1960, most of the communities had closed. Today, fewer than a dozen Shakers remain in Maine's Sabbathday Lake, the last active Shaker community. Yet the delicate, austere beauty and functionality of their works continue to inspire us, as do their makers' love of a job well done.
The exhibition is organized by International Arts & Artists, Inc., Washington, D.C., from the collection of the Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield, Massachusetts.