8.04.2011

HANCOCK SHAKER VILLAGE: LIVING DETAILS


I'll end my Shaker festival with a group of photographs of what I think of as the living details of architecture--something not enough designers take into consideration when they set about the business of creating a house.

The Shakers carefully considered the design and function of every broom closet, kitchen sink, and cupboard, with the result that the interiors of their buildings are every bit as clean-lined as the exteriors.


Everything they made has an elegant flair--even the crutches...


Or the broom closet.

Though people often say they were against adornment, I don't think that is quite accurate. Rather, they used their everyday utensils as adornment--even the milky blue-green hue of a blanket chest is striking against the shiny marigold floor.


The linens are hung on a rack so that their shadows play against the wall, and the whitewash sets off the bit of windowpane design and embroidery identifying the owner of a towel or napkin.


The Shakers invented the peg rail, and used it cleverly, for instance, to keep in the warmth from a wood stove in winter, or to hang thick linens across windows to shut out the hot sun in summer.


And as with the exteriors of their buildings, the Shakers used color inside their rooms as well, even using bright hues inside cupboards.


Was this functional, a way of brightening dim interiors during long winters? Or simply to give the housekeeper pleasure, as she folded her linens and stacked them neatly on their shelves?

The windows set deep into the outside of the wall have massive sills, and their openings widen into the room to allow in the most light possible during the long, cold winters.

The backlighting of some of the everyday objects used in a kitchen--a bowl, say, or a pitcher, would play up its sculptural shape, and surely such gestures were appreciated, if not consciously, in that way that a simple moment of beauty serves to refine one's sensibility and calm one's nerves. Even the shadows cast by the afternoon sun must have given the residents a reason to pause in their work and contemplate the blessings of their simple lives. It certainly made me stop and think about how much more deeply we can appreciate things singly, rather than in crowds.


Even the workshop, where furniture legs are turned and pieces joined, was a place of serene, but noisy, beauty.


The woodworker's tools were powered by water, which was piped in from a reservoir on a hilltop above the village.


The water had enough force to turn a series of leather-strapped wheels that worked the lathes; it was remarkable to see it gushing out when the heavy iron wheels were turned to open up the source.


And the way the tools were hung, waiting for their turn to be put to use again...

The materials used in making everything are durable, honest, and simple--soapstone, granite, zinc, earth, wood, straw, and washes of vegetal hues. This is an aesthetic that looks refreshingly modern, as a new generation makes its way into the world with considerations of living sustainably, even off the grid, and appreciating simplicity.

These posts aren't about redecorating Shaker-style, though more power to anyone who invests in pieces that carry in them such a rich history of thoughtful industry. Rather, as a design sponge who finds herself constantly soaking up inspiration, I was immeasurably moved by the discovery of Hancock Village living museum. I was taken back in time, yet at the same time, oddly moved forward--there is something about the refined care that spoke to some nascent idea I have about the style with which I want to grow old.

I was given a tour through the village by the interim director, Peter Hansen--that's his hand in the photograph of the lathe. I can't imagine a more inspiring, knowledgeable and witty guide--and I recommend having someone walk you through so that you can see "behind the scenes", and understand what you're looking at. Thank you Peter! 

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this brief return to House & Garden edited by the incomparable Dominique Browning; and for those of you who weren't exposed to the magazine during those years, you have been now, in three glorious parts.

These were the "hands to work, hearts to God" people, oh don't I wish we'd taken such meditative care with each of the steps of the renovation of our little treehouse here in FL, each step designed/executed by the hands of my husband and me.

Even though I keep a great Shaker reminder in my permanent file of great quotations ["A man can show his religion as much in sorting onions as he can in singing glory hallelujah."], I still override meditative opportunities in most daily tasks with a self-defeating hurryup hurryup pace.

Time to slow down, holy is the hand washing, holy is the onion sorting. And holy is this blog, holy is the host, thank you DB.

-Flo

Bruce Barone said...

Beautiful post!

And I love the quote from Flo: "A man can show his religion as much in sorting onions as he can in singing glory hallelujah."

WOW X 2.

Blue said...

Moments of beauty indeed! A few years ago we visited the Shaker Village of Pleasant in Kentucky and I must say it was a very moving experience. I was surprised how moving given all that has been written and I have read, but to walk those rooms and take those stairs and even just to stand and see the beauty of it all of it all were simple gifts indeed - to have turned and come 'round right ...

Jessie said...

Thanks for these recent posts Dominique. I had only a vague notion of these "villages". Now I want to visit. SOON.

Jerry said...

Dominique,

Bravo on your Shaker series. It captivated my interests all along. Few blogs can do this as we are all so wired to have short attention spans.

Are these your own photos? If so you should consider publishing them.

Jerry
www.145antiques.com

Anonymous said...

"The style with which I want to grow old." Yes, you've opened my eyes to my heart's desire. Thank you.

Elizabeth said...

Wow! This is so interesting and very beautiful in its simplicity. I love the round barn.

Paula said...

Dominique, I read your blog every day and enjoy your writing very much. I have been traveling since last week and finally just logged on to your blog and was surprised by the gift of your entries about the Hancock Shaker Village. I was just there this past Sunday with a some dear friends ! Thank you for reinforcing a great visit with your words and photos.

profA said...

Thank you, once again for taking us along on your vacation to Hancock Village. Recreation in the true sense of the word.
There is such economy, thrift, proportion, just rightness in their design. The beauty of the raw materials has place of honor. One has the sense that there has been very little waste. All has been turned to purpose.
Dominique, your postings have elicited some wonderful comments this week. It has been a pleasure to read them all. If you are not yet home...have a safe trip.
PS yes, I love the colorful surprises inside of closets and cabinets. Very playful.
Linda B.

Dona M said...

As an artist the Shaker Village that you so beautifully documented in photos and words is a reminder of focus, constant focus on what one cherishes. They remained pure in their design creating beauty with form and function. What a wonderful book could be done of the places we should all see as Americans where our history is of beauty, design, art and love instead of wars and conquest.

karenleslie said...

dona M, i love your idea and i know just the person to do it!

katy elliott said...

I've been dying to go for a visit. Great photos and so much inspiration.

Dominique said...

Thanks all--and welcome, Jerry! All photos are my own, unless otherwise noted. I hope you all get a chance to visit the village....

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