Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Hancock Shaker Village

Having lived for many years within a couple of hours of Lancaster, PA, we tend to compare people like the Shakers with the Amish. Their religions feature being separated from the world and stress a focus on community, hard work, and avoidance of ostentatious displays. That's where the similarities end. While the Amish believe in holding on to the ways of the past to eschew worldliness the Shakers strongly believed in progress.

Ironic that the Amish have survived and the Shakers have almost completely disappeared as a culture.  Until you recall that the Amish believe in marriage and large families while the Shakers were celibate. Such a seemingly small detail, but oh so important in the grand scheme of things!

Bob and I visited the Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, MA today, and were swept into another world. The sheer beauty of our surroundings overwhelmed us.

We heard docents speak about the customs of the Shakers, whose men and women lived in one house but kept separate from each other with the women on one side of the house and the men on another. Even in worship they were segregated from each other. And yet they believed in equal rights; there were an equal number of male and females in decision-making roles.

Families often joined the movement. From the time they joined the husband and wife ceased to live as a married couple, and their children were taken to another building to be raised separately. Joining the Shakers was often a financial decision rather than a spiritual one. Times were hard in the late 1800's and a convert was fed, taught a trade, and given clothing to wear. Orphans were often sent to the Shakers, and were taught a trade and educated. When the children came of age they were offered the choice to stay or leave. At this point in the lecture someone in the audience piped up and said that the Shakers sounded like a cult. Perhaps it seems that way to modern folk, but people who joined the community were free to leave. Some became "winter Shakers," showing up each fall and staying through the hard winter before leaving in the warm spring! Click on the pictures to embiggen.
We saw the woodshop where running water is harnessed by a turbine to provide power to run various belt-driven saws and lathes.
 In another shop a craftsman demonstrated how a mortise and tenon were fashioned by hand.
And then came the weaving rooms. The rooms were filled with large and small looms, one of which caught my eye. It was a two harness tape loom that was used to weave the bands and tapes needed for chair seats, laces, clothing fasteners, and many other purposes. Cute as a bug, too.
If I had room for one of these I'd have Bob make me one. (Can you hear his sigh of relief from where you are?)

In another building, a room called the Discovery Room provided hands-on opportunities to dress in costume, card wool, and sit down at a loom to weave. The docent was not a weaver, and when I overheard a man express interest in the loom I asked if I might explain. I ended up giving a brief demonstration of the loom (a Harrisville Designs 22" 4 harness, 4 treadle loom) and how it works. Fun! The docent was appreciative.
 Other exhibits included old cars (the Shakers drove cars like these when they were available...)
 ...a cool ladder created by a visiting artist...
...and a round barn. There were sheep, goats, cows, chickens, and pigs on the farm to see.

And I don't think we even saw it all, although we did a pretty good job of seeing the highlights.  This is the kind of place you could return to often and keep learning.

The gift shop was filled with lovely objects, including a sewing table for over $3000, and Shaker chairs with woven seats.  I found one that had a machine-made woven seat but it was very pretty anyway.
We had lunch in the cafe and it was really good. Not overpriced, either. I'm sure we will return another time to this beautiful area and when we do, the Hancock Shaker Village will be on our list of places to revisit.

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