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Anything But Simple: Gift Drawings and the Shaker Aesthetic

September 13, 2024–January 25, 2025
Exhibition

The Shakers, often celebrated for their minimalist approach to design, will be showcased in a new light with the exhibition Anything But Simple: Gift Drawings and the Shaker Aesthetic. Made by women in the mid-19th century and believed to represent divine messages, the “gift” drawings on display represent a departure from the simplicity typically associated with Shaker material culture. 

Opening during the 250th year of Shakerism in the United States, the exhibition features drawings widely considered to be among the finest surviving examples of this rare type. These symbols of love and nature were often given as “tokens” to other Shakers during meetings. Brightly colored and replete with intricate ornamentation, they represent a stunning world of celestial imagery. Compared to examples of Shaker clothing and furniture that will also be included in the exhibition, the vibrancy of the drawings will mark a distinct contrast with the clean lines typically associated with Shaker design. 

Divided into several sections, the exhibition will open with an in-depth look at the Shakers themselves, as well as delve into the “Shaker aesthetic,” the Era of Manifestations, and more. The drawings will be accompanied by biographical information on the women who made them, enriching visitors’ experience of these stunning objects with contextual understanding of their historical and spiritual meanings. 

The Museum is grateful to Hancock Shaker Village, which originated the exhibition and is lending these extraordinary works that have only rarely traveled to other venues. The exhibition will also feature work from AFAM’s holdings as well as material from public and private collections – including a selection of archival photographs from the New York State Museum.

Artworks

Polly Jane Reed (1818–1881), A Type of Mother Hannah’s Pocket Handkerchief, New Lebanon, New York, 1851, Ink and watercolor on paper, 23 5/8 x 26 in. (framed), Andrews Collection, Hancock Shaker Village, Massachusetts, 63.126.1. 

Polly Collins (1808–1884), An Emblem of the Heavenly Sphere, Hancock, Massachusetts, 1854, Ink and watercolor on paper, 31 11/16 x 26 1/8 in. (framed), Andrews Collection, Hancock Shaker Village, Massachusetts, 1963.113. 

Hannah Cohoon (1788–1864), The Tree of Life, Hancock, Massachusetts, 1854, Ink and watercolor on paper, 25 3/25 x 29 13/16 in. (framed), Andrews Collection, Hancock Shaker Village, Massachusetts, 1963.117. 

Oval Nesting Boxes, New Lebanon, New York, After 1875, Maple, pine, iron, copper, 2 3/4 x 6 x 4 in. (the largest), Collection of M. Stephen and Miriam R. Miller.