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24 Jun 2024

Exhibition of Rare Shaker Drawings to Open at the American Folk Art Museum

(New York, New York) — The American Folk Art Museum is pleased to present the exhibition Anything but Simple: Gift Drawings and the Shaker Aesthetic, opening on September 13, 2024. 

The Shakers, often celebrated for their minimalist approach to design, will be showcased in a new light with this exhibition. The “gift” drawings on display represent a departure from the simplicity typically associated with Shaker material culture. Made by women in the mid-19th century and believed to represent divine messages, these intricate and vibrant drawings offer a unique glimpse into the interior world of the Shakers. 

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 furniture and objects 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. 

“Not only were the Shakers exceptional craftspeople, they were also individuals with a deep spiritual connection to their work,” said Emelie Gevalt, AFAM’s Curator of Folk Art & Curatorial Chair for Collections. “These drawings are a testament to the complexity of the Shakers’ vision, showing that their creativity was truly ‘anything but simple’.”

The gift drawings in the exhibition were made during an extraordinary time in Shaker history, when art and music flourished, and faith was renewed. This powerful era of revival among the Shakers resulted in spiritual revelations. Called the Era of Manifestations, or Mother’s Work, this revival connected newer believers to their founders. Women were often the ones who received these supernatural communications, which they saw as “gifts” taking the form of songs and poems as well as drawings on view in the exhibition. 

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  historical photographs from the New York State Museum.

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. 

“Join us this fall to experience the beauty and mystery of Shaker gift drawings. We hope our guests gain a new appreciation for the intricate and unique artistic expressions of the Shakers,” commented Jason T. Busch, AFAM’s Becky and Bob Director & CEO. 

“Hancock Shaker Village offers numerous exhibits throughout the year highlighting the collection alongside global and local contemporary artists. The exhibits exemplify the enduring relevance the Shakers have on the visual arts by accentuating the past and uniting the present,” said Kathleen Lynch, Ed.D, Hancock Shaker Village Curator and Director of Collections.

Anything but Simple will be on display from September 13, 2024 to January 26, 2025. Admission at the American Folk Art Museum is free. The Museum is open to the public from Wednesday through Sunday, 11:30 am to 6:00 pm. For more information, please visit: 

About the American Folk Art Museum

Founded in 1961, the American Folk Art Museum has engaged people of all backgrounds through its collections, exhibitions, publications, and programs as the leading forum shaping the understanding and appreciation of folk and self-taught art across time and place.

About Hancock Shaker Village

With 20 historic buildings and a working farm and garden, Hancock Shaker Village is open April through December for self-guided tours, demonstrations, talks, and programs ranging from concerts to goat yoga. The museum celebrates the history and legacy of the Shakers, a religious group that lived communally and sought to realize the perfection of heaven on earth by espousing values of equality and pacifism. On the National Historic Register, it is the most comprehensively interpreted Shaker site in the world and the oldest working farm in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts.