wearing color

Date : July 31, 2020

How do you pick the colors of your clothes?  What if you could only wear colors that you could dye, would this limit your palatte? Or might it open up a rainbow?

indigo dye bath

Recently, I read that the Shakers were allowed to wear any color they could dye themselves, and that fact stopped me in my tracks.  I imagined that the Sisters and Brethren would be clad in garments that were ‘drab’ in color and hadn’t imagined them wearing bright salmon—maybe made from a madder dye bath or pink from cochineal.

shades of madder

“Believers were told they might use any color they could dye themselves, and dye books indicate how broad that color range actually was.  Besides the popular (and practical) blue and the butternut shades, recipes for red, black, “lead or mouse color,” salmon, pink, yellow green, drab, brown, purple, crimson, lavender, scarlet, orange, buff, blue-black and slate were given.  Yellow was not used extensively, and the number of dye recipes for red shades, and, interestingly recipes for the brightest colors (orange, bright green, purple) often specified for dyeing on silk.” 1

coreopsis solar dye

“A variety of other dyestuffs were used during the remainder of the summer. Some were gathered or procured locally (purslain, hemlock, beech bark, sorrel, sumac), but most were purchased from chemist.  A wide range of dyestuffs and chemical “assistants” is mentioned in Shaker account and receipt books.  Cochineal, madder indigo, and logwood were common purchases; and alum, cream of tart, copperas, and bitrio were common setting agent, or mordant, purchases. Other dyestuffs—aleppo galls, camwood, brazilwood, fustic, annatto, redwood, catchetu, weld, and woad—were also mentioned.” (2)

coreopsis gathered from Hancock Shaker Village dye garden

At the moment, madder, woad, weld, and coreopsis are growing in the dye garden at Hancock Shaker Village and indigo in my dye garden.  For cochineal, indigo, logwood, fustic, brazilwood, my source is none other than Botanical Colors.   Purslain, hemlock, beech, sorrel and sumac are easily foraged.  And over the next few months, I will start to make a dye book filled with all the shades of colors worn by Shakers.  

Beverly Gordon, Shaker Textile Arts, (Univesity Press of New England:  Hanover, NH, 1980), pg. 78, 76


hand held

Category : Artists at Work
Date : July 17, 2020

wool handcarders, niddy noddys, spinning wheel parts and wooden mitten molds.

‘tunnel’ bonnet forms for a sister, wide brimmed brethren hat forms and boxes for linen thread.

elegantly curved carpet beaters, irons of all shapes and sizes, sieves and hoes.

potato mashers & bowls, drying racks and butter churns, and rows and rows of wooden buckets.

wide baskets, tall baskets, baskets with handles, baskets without, baskets with woven wire bottoms.

looms and great spinning wheels lined up at the starting gate, ready to spin raw wool into thread. 

flat floor brooms, small handheld brooms, and mops with heads made from rags.

the evidence of hands exists in these objects.  hands made the tools that allowed other hands to stretch the cloth over the hat form, to spin the wool into thread walking many miles alongside the great wheel, to beat the carpets daily to keep them free of dirt, to mash the potatoes to fill the mouths of the many that worked in the field that day to fill the baskets with tomatoes. 

maybe it was the accumulated years of work that overwhelmed me as I stood looking at these objects made by Shaker hands for Shaker hands.

later, this quote found me: “And within Shaker culture, the act of making gift drawings may be aligned with the other modes of labor, such as sweeping, that the Shakers classified as women’s work and sacrilized.  Sacrilization socially legitimated these modes of labor by elevating them to expressions of spirituality.”

“Hands to work. Hearts to God.”

[quote from Francis Morin, Heavenly Visions:  Shaker Gift Drawings and Gift Songs, (Drawing Center, New York, 2001), pg. 31.


reuse & relocate

Category : Artists at Work
Date : July 8, 2020

The Shakers were not shy about retrofitting or changing design to accommodate new needs.  This early practice is evidenced by one of the oldest ‘relics’,  Mother Ann’s rocking chair—an eighteenth century stationary Windsor chair to which rockers were added [in the collection of Fruitlands Museum, Harvard, MA].  

Whilst a chair might be a manageable object to retrofit, a building did not daunt.  The Hired Men’s Shop at Hancock Shaker Village once served as a seed shop and later as a working print shop. This building was not merely converted by simply carting in new equipment and putting up a wall or two, but the entire structure was rolled across busy Route 20 to replace a burned down building.  Using what was at hand for what was needed. 

And for the next six months, the building will function as an artist’s studio for the ARTISTS AT WORK pilot project.  Before moving in, I swept the wide wooden floorboards, for as Mother Ann Lee [founding leader of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, known as the Shakers] said, ‘There is no dirt in heaven.”  

Six windows fill the room with natural light.  A large pot bellied stove sits in front of an faded red built in cupboard with 21 drawers and four cupboards. To my surprise, when opened, the interior of each cupboard is painted a citrine yellow.  We set up a work table and brought in a rocking chair.  

Time to get to work. 


starting with seeds

Date : July 2, 2020

From seed to seedling to full grown plant–this process always amazes me. An entire plant is held in a seed, the size of a grain of sand. Start with good soil, add water and sun, hope for rain and allow time.

Now is the time that harvest begins both at Camphill Village and Hancock Shaker Village. Saved seeds transform into lettuces, peas, radishes and herbs. Pesky weeds are being pulled. Mouths water waiting for the green tomatoes to turn bright red.

Now is also the time to think about what fall crops will follow the glory of summer in the garden. Turtle Tree Biodynamic Seed, Camphill’s seed business, is offering selected fall seeds until July 9th. One may purchase seeds through their website, turtletreeseed.org

Tangible parallels between the Villages are seen in their summer gardens–the labors of one for another making a community. New Lebanon Shaker, Brother Frederick Evans said, “Only the simple labors of farming people can keep a community together.”

For more information on Camphill Village, please go to their website and make sure to watch the video on village life.

For more information on Hancock Shaker Village, please go to their website for revised opening information.


Artists At Work | Hancock Shaker Village & Camphill Village

Category : Artists at Work, Farm
Date : July 1, 2020

Today marks the launch of ARTISTS AT WORK (AAW) — a program that pairs artists with cultural hubs and community partners.  I am thrilled to be an Artist-in-Residence at Hancock Shaker Village (Pittsfield, MA)  partnering with Camphill Village (Copake, NY). AAW is organized by THE OFFICE Performing Arts + Film and FreshGrass Foundation. 


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