After a week of debt ceiling insanity, it is a pleasure to escape into a world of thrift, industriousness, productivity, and an extremely balanced, well-honed budget. Anyone who has spent ten minutes in a library of design--or at Ikea, for that matter--has heard of Shaker style. That familiar, straight-laced, clean-lined and simple furniture, with no adornment, simply honest and forthright.
Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, for decades, but never gotten around to it until a recent field trip to the Berkshires. The moment I entered the grounds--in a playful "Taj Mahal moment", the iconic round barn, the center of a thriving dairy industry, perfectly poised, as if it were a sacred building, within the covered gateway--I knew I was in for a transcendent experience. I wasn't even half prepared for the stunning beauty of what I saw--because Shaker style isn't about benches and cupboards. It is about a way of life.
(I'm going to break my post up into several parts, only because I don't want to crash your computers, as I have so many photographs to share with you. If you have a handheld, please come back and visit full screen. I'll start with a batch that captures the astonishingly varied color and forthrightness of the architecture--for that is what immediately struck me as I stood, blinking the sunlight, dazzled.)
The way things end up looking only derives from some fundamental views of morality and what we would refer to as the good life. When you see the entire community, you see the way the pieces fit together, and everything falls into place. You see the need for simplicity because of a desire to live a life with nothing to hide, a communal, pacifist life of racial and gender equality.
But you also see the need to repress the most basic life-drive, sex, as that was forbidden in this community. The Hancock village called itself "the City of Peace."
This isn't the place for an in-depth history lesson. Quite sketchily, the Shakers, or The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, established their village, the third such founded by their sect, around 1790. The were Millennialists, who believed that Christ's second coming was realized in their leader, Ann Lee, who led them to the new world from England. They wanted to create a Heaven on earth, but live apart from "The World." They were known as Shakers because the trembled and whirled through ecstatic worship services.
Sabbathday Lake, Maine. The Hancock Shaker community peaked in the 1830s, with about 300 residents occupying 3,000 acres. They were quite radical, actually; they really lived "off the grid", apart, in a quasi welfare system that took care of its own, no matter what, from birth to death. They developed a sophisticated system of herbal healing; they supported themselves with their farming and animal husbandry. Most of us have a passing familiarity with some of their songs, the most famous being Simple Gifts--Tis the gift to be simple, tis the gift to be free...Sung here by the inimitable Judy Collins.
And they were brilliant architects, constantly playing with proportions and color--the color was a huge surprise to me, and this post highlights the variation of paints used inside and out on their buildings and furnishings. They also experimented successfully with harnessing wind and water to power their machinery; today the village, a living museum, has a huge solar array.
The variety of color was splendid. I was startled to see even a pink building, the color of a sow's belly, graced one edge of the property.
(Next post, we'll visit the round stone barn.)