Friday, September 28, 2012

Can you identify this?

If you can, then chances are you're either (a) old, or (b) a computer geek, or possibly even an old computer geek. It's a punchcard, what we used to communicate with computers back when dinosaurs still roamed the earth.

I came across it recently while checking some facts for my series on Shaker sites. I found it hiding between the pages of The People Called Shakers by Edward Deming Andrews. Inside the front cover was a return address sticker we'd used to identify ownership of the book. It listed the address of the house we rented while I was a graduate student. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Hidey Hole

It's a southern thing. In fact, I'd never even heard the expression until we started fraternizing with southerners. I'm not talking about mountain folk, people from Kentucky, east Tennessee, and such. I'm talking about southerners. People whose great-great grand-daddy seceded from the union and they haven't gotten over the fact that it didn't stick. People who regularly vote Republican. (Yes, believe it or not, there are people like that.) Real southerners.

A hidey hole is somewhere your cat goes 10 minutes before you need to leave for the vet's. You cannot find them. That is not just an expression; it's a fact. You CAN NOT find them. By definition. You turn the house upside down, look in places that weren't even places a half hour before, you rattle the bag of treats, you place the other cats under a bright light and give them the third degree. Nothing. They're in the hidey hole.

I probably should consult with Stephen Hawking, for I suspect hidey holes have something to do with the space-time continuum, whatever that is. Hidey holes may actually exist only in concepts of theoretical physics, but cats, being far superior to humans, move freely in and out of them.

Here kitty, kitty!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Visitor's Guide to Shaker sites

If there is anyone still with me after my extensive Shaker tour, thank you for sticking it out. What? You now want to go off on a visit of your own? Need help deciding where to go? Of the 19 communities begun by the Shakers, only nine welcome visitors today. Assuming you only want to visit one or two, here are my suggestions.

Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Harrodsburg, KYFounded 1814, closed 1910. Being our nearest and most-familiar site (we've been supporting members more than 30 years), I was careful about ranking it first. Several factors contribute to that ranking, not the least of which is their overnight lodging. Visitors stay in historic buildings in modernized (i.e., individual bathrooms) rooms fitted with Shaker reproduction furniture. A museum for more than 45 years, they have operations well honed. Four family sites are preserved and a varied interpretive program makes repeat visits as interesting as the first.

Canterbury, New Hampshire. Founded 1793, closed 1992 (date last resident died). Canterbury is a very important site, and preserves more of the complexity of a Shaker village than the others. They began operating as a museum while there were Shakers still in residence. They have an excellent food service and museum store, but do not have overnight lodging. So visitors miss out on a key part of the Shaker experience.

Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Founded 1790, closed 1960. Another mature museum, they do just about everything well. They have food service, but they have no overnight lodging. The Round Stone Barn, the Church Family Dwelling, and the Moses Johnson Meeting House are some of the very finest examples of Shaker architecture that exist.

Any of my top three picks will provide an excellent introduction to Shaker history, life, and art. A choice can safely be based on proximity and convenience. Each offers plenty to encourage repeat visits, as well. Those who become serious students of Shaker will want to visit the other six, especially South Union Shaker Museum, Auburn, KY (top photo; founded 1811, closed 1922), and Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village, New Lebanon, New York (founded 1787, closed 1947). Mt. Lebanon has the potential for joining the top ranking once the Shaker Museum and Library finishes restoring the North Family site and establishes their full operation there.

Tomorrow it's on to other things.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

No photographs, please!

I promised a rant on this subject a few days ago. This is it, so please feel free to skip this post.

There is a common misconception that the light from flash units leads to premature fading of pigments. And this is the excuse you most often hear at museums. It simply isn't true. Modern flash units have extremely short flash duration, typically in the range of 1/1000 second. And the energy contained in a flash (or any radiation, for that matter) decreases by the square of the distance traveled. Think about it. How much energy is released by a flash unit? How much actually reaches the surface of concern? How does that compare with normal interior lighting? How does it compare with light coming in through windows? It simply doesn't compute. If there were a constant barrage of simultaneous and continuous flashes 24 hours a day, seven days a week, then perhaps there might be some validity to the argument. But that's very unlikely to happen.

So how did this get started? In the early days of popular flash photography we used flash bulbs. It was not at all uncommon for a bulb to shatter when flashed. The broken glass could be, and was, a hazard. Later bulbs were encased in a clear plastic coating, so shattering was much less common. Still the prohibition persisted, even into the era of electronic flash units, which never shatter.

So why prohibit all photography? There is one (possibly) legitimate reason. That is economic. If a museum sells images of its collections, then allowing visitors to take their own photographs might cut into their profits. Or, they may wish to charge a fee to allow photography. If they don't sell images and they don't sell licenses, then it's just plain being mean spirited.

That's my opinion.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village

One's first reaction on arriving at the last active Shaker Village is "It's so small!" It's barely bigger than a lot of family farms, if that. But it's home to the last practicing members of the United Society; five Shakers and two novitiates. They conduct services in their 1794 Moses Johnson meeting house every Sunday in summer, and continue to welcome the world to their services. Winter services are held in a chapel in the dwelling across the road. According to our tour guide, services no longer include the dances and marches so long associated with Shakers, but consist of songs, readings from the Bible, and reactions to the readings and testimonials.

As you enter the parking lot you are greeted with a sign in front of what you later learn is the herb house that proclaims "PRIVATE beyond this point. Car Exit Only." Being the home of the remaining Shakers, there are few places the visitor can go without a tour guide. Our tour guide did an excellent job, however, and we did get to see several of the buildings.

The tour starts in the Boy's Shop, where young boys were taught trades. There are museum exhibits here as well. But again, no interior photos were allowed. There are more museum exhibits in the Spin Shop next door.

The tour took us into the meeting house, which looks nearly the same as the Hancock meeting house, plus we got to see the second floor living quarters that the ministry once occupied. It is furnished with appropriate Shaker antiques, but no photography was allowed. Our tour guide reminded me of that fact frequently, since I still had my camera with me. On the return walk we got to visit the sisters' shop while there was a lull in the day's work there.

The sisters' shop is home to the village's herb industry and the smells were delightful.

After the short tour I wandered around outside the quarantine area, first to the barns. They certainly say "Maine'" don't they?

From there I walked up to the road to get a shot of the dwelling. Always the smallest of the Shaker communities, it reached a peak of around 200 shortly after its founding in 1783. That number had dwindled to around 150 during the time before the Civil War when the Shaker movement was at its height. From that point there has been a steady decline, as in other Shaker communities.

Our visit concluded at the Trustees' Office, which today still operates a store. Here my wife bought a few "stocking stuffers" for Christmas, plus a couple of items for our granddaughter that won't wait until Christmas.

I can imagine the stresses to residents of having their home open to tourists, and the need to exercise control over movement on the site. The tour guides are volunteers, not Shakers, and the two we encountered were knowledgeable and courteous. One was borderline paranoid about the possibility of pictures being taken inside buildings. Since I don't agree with that policy, and photographs are a large part of my reason for visiting in the first place, I found that annoying. Perhaps she had just recently been taken to the whipping shed for not being diligent.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Canterbury Shaker Village, part 2

In addition to the meeting house and dwellings, Shaker villages were packed with all sorts of buildings that supported their lives and commerce. For example, the yellow building immediately behind the meeting house was the ministry shop.

The elders and eldresses of the ministry lived apart from the community, typically in the upstairs of the meeting house, but they were not excused from contributing to the common good. They would practice whatever trades they were adept at in a ministry shop located near the meeting house, and the products of their labors would be either used by members of the community or sold to contribute cash to the society.

There were barns to house the village's livestock. This 1819 horse barn is a striking example of New England architecture with its shingle siding.

Every village had a Trustees' Office; this is Canterbury's, built in 1831. Here the village trustees would conduct business with the world and overnight guests would be housed and fed. There were both male and female trustees, and as in the rest of the village the sisters and brothers had their own sections in which to live and work.

It took large quantities of wood to cook and provide heat in winter. This is the last remaining wood shed at Canterbury. A nearby identical one was destroyed when the 1858 cow barn burned in 1973. The foundation stones for the cow barn can be seen in the gap between the woodshed and the yellow building at left.

A display near the former barn has photos. It was 200 feet x 45 feet and housed 100 dairy cattle. A 25 foot ramp provided access at either end. These ramps survive.

In 1910 the Shakers built a powerhouse and had electric lights in 16 buildings. The powerhouse contained a gasoline-powered, direct-current generator and storage batteries. Lines were run to the village in 1925 and the Shakers then purchased power from the local utility, but the powerhouse was kept as a backup.

I like this picture because it illustrates so well the Shaker emphasis on utility over aesthetics. When electricity was distributed through the village, they simply strung wires from building to building instead of building power lines with poles to support them. This building is the 1816 Sisters' Shop.

The 1785 Syrup Shop predates the Shakers at Canterbury. It belonged to Benjamin Whitcher, an early convert whose lands became part of the Canterbury holdings. It may have been used as a lodging in the beginning. The Shakers used it to make medicinal syrups, most famously Thomas Corbett's Compound Concentrated Syrup of Sarsaparilla, known as "The Great Purifier of the Blood and other Fluids of the Body." Before we condemn the Shakers for peddling snake-oil patent medicines, let's keep in mind that Queen Victoria stood at the head of the greatest opium distribution system ever. Times change.

Although celibate, there were always children in Shaker villages. Some came with parents who had been converted with the families broken up, others were orphans, and still others were dropped off by destitute parents who could no longer provide for them. No child was turned away. They were fed, clothed, and educated, both in academic subjects and the trades. On becoming of age, they were free to leave or stay and sign the covenant. Typically girls received classroom instruction in summer, boys in winter. And at Canterbury, they had indoor toilets!

OK, it's not exactly what you thought, but they were indoor. The children did not have to venture outside to answer nature's calls; it was just down a hall from the classroom. And I can imagine how much warmer it was on cold winter mornings.

There's much, much more to see at Canterbury, but I'll cut it off here. The museum has an excellent web site with a section on historic buildings that is well worth visiting. For your convenience, you can do that by clicking here.

A last word about the final photograph. Here there are dry-stack stone fences, as we saw at Pleasant Hill Shaker Village in Kentucky. But unlike the flat limestone rocks in Kentucky, these are made of rocks that were rounded by glaciers thousands of years ago.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Canterbury Shaker Village

The Canterbury, New Hampshire, Shaker village extends a warm welcome at first sight. Still rural, it is unique among Shaker museums in that it passed directly from the Shakers to the non-profit museum corporation. In fact, the last sisters remained here as the museum developed and their lodging was the last building to be incorporated into the museum. By not experiencing a period of private ownership, the village remains more intact than any other Shaker site, except for Sabbathday Lake, which remains an active community.

The first thing a person familiar with Shaker sites notices is the density of buildings. We know from old maps of other villages that they have lost many buildings to fire and demolition over time. Here at Canterbury, the Church Family site retains the density of a functioning Shaker community. Moreover, the buildings date from throughout its history, giving a feel for how life changed there over time and how technology impacted the people's lives.

Shaker life was all about the church, so the meeting house was of primary importance. The community was founded in 1792 and their Moses Johnson-built meeting house was completed the same year. The church family dwelling wasn't begun until the following year.

The initial building was small, but grew through many additions to where it could house up to 100 members. The bell tower, or cupola, was added in 1832 and met with opposition from the central ministry at New Lebanon.

According to their web site, the tower was shortened by 5 feet 5 inches in response. Mentally adding back that height, one can understand why the central ministry might not be pleased. Shakers were still strict about not making a show of things at that time.

The Enfield House was built in 1826 as the trustees office for the Canterbury Second Family. In 1921 the Shakers moved it to the Church Family where it housed the sisters who left the Enfield community as it was being closed in 1923. It became the preferred dwelling in the 20th century because it was more modern than the Church Family dwelling.

Like Enfield, the Canterbury museum does not permit photography inside the buildings. So interior shots are few and caught in unsupervised moments (I'll have a rant on this subject in a few days). Pity, for there is a lot to see here.

One of the outstanding features of the Church Family is this unique oven. There are four doors opening on revolving shelves each four feet in diameter. There is some sense of scale from the bricks, but consider that 60 loaves of bread could be baked simultaneously. The oven was designed by a Shaker sister and completed in 1878.

Tomorrow I'll take you to some of the dependent buildings and we'll investigate life at the Canterbury village.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Enfield, New Hampshire

The Enfield Shaker village is one of the newest museums, and the site was greatly compromised before the museum was founded. Following the departure of the last Shaker residents for Canterbury village in 1923, the site was sold to the Missionaries of La Salette, a Roman Catholic order, in 1927. The La Salettes established a school, seminary, and conference center at the site. They also built a Classical Revival church next to the Great Stone Dwelling, the site's signature Shaker building. The site sits on the shore of Lake Mascoma, so when the La Salettes sold the site in 1985 a large number of private homes were built there. The non-profit museum began acquiring parts of the site in 1986.

The Great Stone Dwelling was built between 1837 and 1841 and designed to house more than 150 members. The brethren entered from one end of the building, the sisters from the other. Unfortunately the Enfield museum does not allow photography inside the building and the tour is guided, so there was no chance to steal a quick shot. There are many reproductions mixed in with original Shaker furniture pieces, however.

The museum owns the 1849 Mill/Machine Shop, but it's not on the tour. The museum now uses it for special events and rents it out for meetings and weddings.

The 1820 West Brethren's Shop is open, and at the time we visited, was self-guided. One of the last Shaker brothers at Enfield lived above the shop.

Probably the most interesting artifact in the shop was this section of pipe made from a bored-out log. The Shakers brought water into the village from a reservoir on Mt. Assurance across the road by means of such. The water was both for consumption and power.

I mentioned the Classical Revival church built by the La Salettes. It's now owned by the museum and on the tour. But it is totally out of context. It's a fine building and an excellent example of Roman Catholic church architecture and design, but its presence detracts from the Shaker experience. It's like listening to Bach, Telemann, Corelli, and Vivaldi, and then having something by Ralph Von Williams mixed in. It's not that it's not good, it's just badly out of context. The mind doesn't want to shift gears that fast.

There are still Shaker buildings, such as this fine 1854 barn, that are in private hands. I assume the museum will attempt to buy them over time.

But there's still a whole high-density, lake-front residential community cheek-by-jowel with the Shaker buildings.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Shaker Cottage Industry

Shakers' needs were no different from those of any rural population in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Not yet having access to cheap, mass-produced goods, the communities had to produce most of what they needed, from food to clothing to furniture. But unlike the world's people, they had many hands to do the work and could enjoy certain economies of scale. This first photo shows a tailor shop with wooden patterns and cutting counters. With up to 300 members at Hancock, there was always a demand for garments from women's dresses and shawls to men's shirts and trousers. The Shaker cloak became an item sought by the world's people and grew to be a source of needed cash for the communities.

Shaker oval boxes and carriers were used for a wide range storage and transport. They were not unique in concept, but their superiority in design and workmanship made them much sought after. They were produced in the thousands and today are symbols of Shaker life and quality. Reproductions are widely sold.

The Shaker chair was a refined version of common chairs of the time. Their unique combination of strength and lightness have made them classics. Many communities had their chair shops and sold their excess production, although it was Mt. Lebanon alone that developed a truly commercial enterprise. And experts can determine which community made a chair by the slight differences between them. The brethren made the frames and the sisters wove the cotton tapes most commonly used in the seats and sometimes in the backs of chairs. Weaving the tapes into the seats could have been done by men or women.

Turning the wood to produce the rounded posts, stretchers, and finials was often on a treadle lathe. The brother turning the wood also produced the power that turned it. Eventually Hancock developed a water-powered mill that we'll see shortly.

Now here's an item I wish I had. It's a chair vise. It clamps the chair and holds it at working height. The base swivels to allow the chair to be turned continuously as you proceed with weaving strips first into the top side and then the bottom and back again. Since I have six dining chairs to reseat this winter, this device could really speed up the job.

Here's an example of Shaker ingenuity and invention. The brothers, like men everywhere, had a habit of leaning back in their chairs. That not only made dents in wood floors, but also sometimes ended with the brother falling over backwards. These tilters built into the bottoms of the back legs give continuous full contact with the floor when the sitter leans back, which both protects the floor and provides increased stability.

I mentioned the water-powered mil. Here beneath its floor is the turbine that replaced the original waterwheel.

That power was transferred by belts and shafts to run all sorts of woodworking tools. It also powered washing machines housed in the laundry, elsewhere in the building.

Being a communal society, the Shakers had what was in effect a commercial laundry. The sisters rotated job assignments each month so everyone shared both the good and the bad jobs throughout the village. Here in one room of the laundry are tables for folding clothes and racks for drying them. The large stove in the center of the room was designed to heat the flat irons they used.

With that huge stove in the room, I don't know why they needed this one, but it does illustrate Shaker innovation. There is a stove in the top photo of the tailor shop that represents the basic Shaker stove. It consists of a firebox connected to a stovepipe. A superheater has been added to the one above. The purpose of the superheater is to simply slow down the escape of hot gases from the firebox to allow more heat to escape into the room. And they do just that.

And finally, there was production of fabric. Wool, cotton, and linen all were spun into yarn and woven into fabric. The Pleasant Hill Shakers in Kentucky had a silk worm industry, as well, and shipped silk and silk fabric to other communities. I'm not aware of Shakers ever selling fabric to the world, but they did sell finished goods, from linens to garments. But the major part of their output was clothing for their own community.

After the Civil War when manufacturing took off in this country, the Shakers could buy bolts of cloth cheaper than they could make it. They lamented the inferior quality of the fabric they bought, but with shrinking membership had little choice but to buy instead of make.