color X 2

Date : October 14, 2020

The Shakers literally ‘colored their world’ from the interior and exterior of their buildings, to the objects they used and to the garments they wore.

Slowly this vibrant world began to dawn on me about a month into my residency.  Was it when we examined their garments with a blue warp and red weft, a process they called ‘changeable,’ that renders a vibrating look to the coat or gown?  Was it standing in the storage room and seeing painted pails all the colors of the rainbow?  Was it being overwhelmed by the multiple yellow ochre hues of paint–peg rails, floor, built-in cupboard, window trim—contrasted with the blues, greens and reds of the objects in the dwelling room?

Hard to say if it was just one moment, but more likely an accumulation of hues over time that dazzled. The Shakers lived in a vibrant world, both interiorly, with their religious beliefs and exteriorly with their painted world.  If only I could time travel back for a day, a week and take that color walk with them. 

I invite you to take two color walks with me.

Next week on October 22 at 5:30pm via Zoom, Hancock Shaker Village Curator Sarah Margolis-Pineo and I will discuss my residency, the search for the Shaker palette through natural dyes and mine the collection for brilliantly colored examples.

Please sign up to join us for A Coat of Heavenly Brightness and register here at Hancock Shaker Village’s website.

Last week, I participated in ‘COLOR + ECOLOGY’ part of the The Common Thread Series, a collaboration with the Southern New England Fiber Shed and the Edna W. Lawrence Nature Lab at RISD.  Laurie Brewer, RISD Museum Costume & Textiles Associate Curator + RISD Apparel Faculty Member along with Amy DuFault and Dora Mugerwa discussed ‘how color’s relationship to regional ecology and history impact the curation of how colors are represented in fashion and textiles’. 

Video of our discussion is available here via The Nature Lab.


fluorescent yellow

Date : September 16, 2020

Large swathes of goldenrod grace the fields now and sway in the wind on this late summer day. We natural dyers long for this time of year when we can harvest the brilliant flowers that make an eye popping fluorescent yellow on cloth.

The Shakers dyed with many fall harvests—goldenrod, sumac, walnut—but didn’t wear yellow.   Why I wonder didn’t they take advantage of these vast fields of bright flowers?  Deborah Burns notes “goldenrod grows in neglected fields” and “where corn had once grown tall, goldenrod now replaced it.” A ‘neglected’ field did not exist on any Shaker farm, so, perhaps, the goldenrod was not as plentiful as it is now. I still search for the reason that Shakers didn’t wear yellow, but maybe it is as easy as yellow shows dirt more than a deep butternut cloth.

If you go to harvest goldenrod, you will not be the only one, for the pollinators are out in full force taking nectar and pollen from the goldenrod, making stores for the winter months.

I invite you to carry Mary Oliver’s fitting poem, Goldenrod, in your pocket as you seek pollinators amongst the fluorescent yellow inflorescences. 

On roadsides,
in fall fields,
in rumpy bunches,
Saffron and orange and pale gold,
in little towers,
soft as mash,
sneeze-bringers and seed-bearers,
full of bees and yellow heads and perfect flowerlettes
and orange butterflies.
I don’t suppose
much notice comes of it, except for honey,
and how it heartens the heart with its
blank blaze.
I don’t suppose anything loves it except, perhaps,
the rocky voids
filled by its dumb dazzle.
For myself,
I was just passing my, when the wind flared
and the blossoms rustled,
and the glittering pandemonium
leaned on me.
I was just minding my own business
when I found myself on their straw hillsides,
citron and butter-colored,
and was happy, and why not?
Are not the difficult labors of our lives
full of dark hours?
And what has consciousness come to anyway, so far,
that is better than these light-filled bodies?
All day
on their airy backbones
they toss in the wind,
they bend as though it was natural and godly to bend,
they rise in a stiff sweetness,
in the pure peace of giving
one’s gold away.



Mary Oliver, Goldenrod from New and Selected Poems, 1992

Deborah E. Burns, Shaker Cities of Peace, Love and Union A History of Hancock Bishopric, (University Press of New England, 1993), pg. 190.


community

Category : community
Date : August 30, 2020

Later today a group of our communities’ essential workers—teachers, nurses, firefighters, health care workers, police officers, maintenance workers, foodbank volunteers, and grocery workers—will be thanked for their service over the past months.  No, they won’t be opening letters, but instead will be offered words and music by Yo Yo Ma, Anjimile, Emanuel Ax, Billy Keane, Chantell McFarland and Deval Patrick — Live from Hancock Shaker Village:  Songs of Comfort

Hancock Shaker Village is known as the City of Peace and seems a fitting place for this evenings’ thank you celebration.

Even though, The Shakers as a society operated outside of the World, as they termed it, they very much participated in and contributed to their surrounding communities.  In her book Shaker Cities of Peace, Love and Union: A History of the Hancock Bishopric, Deborah E. Burns cites many examples, but this one is both apt and particularly poignant.

“A report from Hudson, New York, in the Pittsfield Sun of November 28, 1803 states:  On Thursday morning last, between eight and nine o’clock, 73 waggons arrived in this city from New Lebanon loaded with different kinds of provisions which is a donation from the Societies of Shakers in New Lebanon and Hancock, to the sufferers by the late terrible epidemic in New York.  The following are the quantities of provisions which they shipped from there to New York, vix. 833 lb. of Pork, 1951 lb. of Beef, 1746 lb. mutton, 1685 lb. rye flour, 52 bushels rye, 24 do. beans, 179 do. potatoes, 34 do. carrots, 2 do. beets, 2 do. dried apples.  Besides these provisions the two Societies made up 300 dollars in specie, which is also to be presented to the poor of New York.  Would not the wealthy part of the community do well to imitate this most noble example of the Shakers?”

 Deborah Burns, Shaker Cities of Peace, Love and Union:  A History of the Hancock Bishopric, (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1993), pgs. 52-53.

Please note, this concert is limited to the invited audience and will be broadcast live on WAMC starting at 7pm and continues until 8:30 pm.


letter writing

Date : August 17, 2020

Today seems a good one to talk about mail, since the United States Postal Service is in a funding crisis and it is a service that many rely upon.

How do you communicate with others?  The best method seems the most direct– meeting face to face.  What if this is not an option?   Would you email, text or consider rolling up your sleeves, finding some paper and ink and sitting down to write a letter?

We (me, Camphill Village, & Hancock Shaker Village) are embarking on a collaboration to make artwork together.  Unfortunately due to Covid we cannot gather together, but we can collaborate together by using alternate means of communication–letter writing. Letter writing was very important to the Shakers, for it kept the various Villages in Union. It kept them together.

“Of course, for much of the 19th century, Shakers kept in contact by writing letters. Family elders wrote frequently, and their letters were read aloud to Believers during evening events known as union or reading meetings. As a journal kept at the Mount Lebanon East Family (probably written by Sister Jane Shearer) stated on May 19, 1867, “This afternoon we had the reading of several letters from Pleasant Hill, Kentucky and they were all interesting.” Indeed, the reading of letters from distant communities must have been one of the many regular duties of family and ministry elders; on April 8, 1876, a Mount Lebanon Church family journal notes that there was “a reading meeting this morn, [and Elder Giles Avery] read to them letters from Groveland, Philadelphia, and other places,” and then in the afternoon he read the letters to the Center, Second, and South Families as well.” 

Shaker Museum Mount Lebanon, “How Shakers Kept Union Remotely,” June 16, 2020, (accessed on August 17, 2020).

Along with letters, I am mailing sheets of paper hand painted with coreopsis ink made from the plants grown at Hancock and printed paper with oak leaves gathered from Camphill.  They sent me beautifully bound blank books and cards to write upon.  As our materials crossover the Taconic Mountain range and land in our studios, we roll up our sleeves and get to work.



three essentials

Date : August 10, 2020

This past week, Sarah Margolis-Pineo, Curator at Hancock Shaker Village and I went on a field trip to meet our collaborator at Camphill Village for a tour.  It wasn’t the astoundingly beautiful and plentiful herb garden or creative energy found in the neat stacks of bound books and elaborate calligraphy that took my breath away (and believe me they did), but the three essentials that Camphill is founded on.

Three Essentials

1—Recognition that in every human being lives an eternal healthy spirit no matter the disability.

2—Every human being has the right and responsibility to learn and develop.

3—Continuous striving to create community.


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. 


“plant-conscious” aka summer reading list 2019

Category : Books
Date : June 24, 2019

And so, we provide our summer reading list.

Summer brings us out into the garden and woods, appreciating nature’s daily changes and honing in on all the residents, both flora and fauna.  Early mornings before working in the garden and rainy afternoons are spent reading to become more “plant-conscious,” as author Richard Powers terms it.

——————————————————————————————————————


The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells (Tim Duggan Books, 2019).

“Personally, I think that climate change itself offers the most invigorating picture, in that even its cruelty flatters our sense of power, and in so doing calls the world, as one, to action.  At least I hope it does.  But that is another meaning of the climate kaleidoscope.  You can choose your metaphor.  You can’t choose your planet, which is the only one any of us will ever call home.” (pp. 228-9).

Casting Deep Shade by C. D. Wright (Copper Canyon Press, 2019)

Ben Lerner writes in the introduction, “It is a book full of love and admiration for eccentric arborists and purveyors of folk knowledge, for they are—like the poet—committed to keeping the language and landscape particular, unpredictable, collective. Committed to preserving these slow-growth kinetic sculptures [beech trees] under siege by profiteers and voles. This is an uncommonplace book.” (p. x)

“Journal of Medicinal Plant Conservation,” A United Plant Savers Publication (United Plant Savers, 2019).

“The Theme is Voices from the Land, with intent to share indigenous perspectives in relationship with plants.  This perspective is most profound in the article on white sage and the conflict with commercialization and cultural appropriation of a plant sacred to many…”We have filled this issue with international perspectives on how medicinal plants are managed, such as the innovations in Bulgaria and the impact of communism in regards to the medicinal plant trade in Albania…”In a rapidly changing environment we have a story from the Marshall Islands dealing with climate change, the opportunity of using invasive plants as medicine…”Stories from our Botanical Sanctuary Network and featured artists from our Deep Ecology Art Fellowship bring creativity to how we can enrich our relationship with plants and in return heal ourselves and the planet.” (p. 2)

The Art and Science of Natural Dyes: Principles, Experiments and Results by Joy Boutrup and Catharine Ellis (Schiffer Books, 2018)

“For millennia, humans perceived color through nature and its reflections in human interpretation. Throughout the ages and around the world, dyers relied on the colors obtained from plants, fungi, lichen, insects, shellfish, and rock minerals…”We want to understand how dyes and mordants work and how different types of fibers react to dyes, mordants, tannins, water, heat and ulturviolent rays…”Having very clear and precise instructions to follow helps us achieve that goal, but unless we understand the whybehind the how, we won’t be able to make the most intelligent decisions when changing circumstances require that recipes be altered…”Taking such factors into account, this book creates a bridge between art and science, showing us the way.”  (p. 8).

Shaker Herbs: A History and A Compendium by Amy Bess Miller (Clarkson N. Potter, 1976).

“An anonymous Shaker editor of the medicinal herb catalog published by the New Lebanon society gave his readers a bonus—a “supplementary” in 1851 which today would be termed a preface. This was the first time such a statement appeared in a Shaker medicinal marketing publication.  It reflects the reasons the Shakers felt so much care and effort should go into the production of medicinal products:

“Perhaps no study contributes more to the length, utility, and pleasure of existence—which adds to health, cheerfulness and enlarged views of creative wisdom and power, and which improves the morals, tastes and judgment, more than the science of botany.” (p. x).

A Life Made by Hand: The Story of Ruth Asawa by Andrea D’Aquino (will be published in early September by Princeton Architectural Press).

“Ruth looked carefully at everything around her.
“What kind of plant are you? she wondered.“

“What a fascinating shape your shell is, Snail.”

“Hello Spider.
How did you figure out how to make your web?”

“Ruth liked to look at the drops of water in her garden.
She often stopped to notice how the light shone through their delicate shapes.”

——————————————————————————————————————–


Trees.  Plants.  Dyes. Herbal Medicines.  Hands.  And only one Earth. 


“Astonishes the grass”

Date : May 10, 2019

The Dandelion's pallid Tube 
Astonishes the Grass -
And Winter instantly becomes
An infinite Alas –
 
The tube uplifts a signal Bud
And then a shouting Flower --
The Proclamation of the Suns
That sepulture is o'er -
 
            Emily Dickinson, 1881

What if the dandelion heralded the same respect as the tulip or dahlia, commanded high prices, and could only be purchased at select nurseries?  Would it be more highly regarded if it cost more, rather than arrived on lawns and byways for free?  Every year, I am astonished by the number of people that vehemently detest the dandelion and seek to eradicate it by any means necessary. 

Our lawn, shall we say, is ‘littered with” dandelions, plantain, violets of all types, and clover, just to name a few.  Yet when we moved here 11 years ago, the lawn was a wasteland of pure grass, with nature’s bounty obliterated by the indiscriminate use of herbicides and pesticides.  Slowly, we have cultivated a variegated spring crop of wildflowers and now watch the bees and other pollinators relish in them.  We take cues from the bees, and happily gather the plants, adding them into our diet, since all four of the plants identified above are edible and provide nourishment.

One should not partake of dandelion wine or greens, make an infusion with the dainty violet flowers, add young plantain leaves to your spring salad or munch a ripe pink clover from the field, if herbicides or pesticides have been applied.

“Humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, posing a dire threat to ecosystems that people all over the world depend on for their survival, a sweeping new United Nations assessment has concluded.”

If one has any doubt about the effects of man and his man-made chemicals on the natural world, the New York Times recently published an analysis of a study done by the IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services; www.ipbes.net) that brings clear evidence to our dire situation:

Thoreau noted in his journal on May 9, 1858, “A dandelion perfectly gone to seed, a complete globe, a system in itself.”  Why not, for the good of the globe, let those dandelions grow, feeding the pollinators and yourself, let it go to seed and then rejoice in what grows naturally around you?

——————————————————————————-

Emily Dicksinson, The Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by R. W. Franklin (Cambridge:  The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press),  pgs. 577-78.

Brad Plumer, “Humans are Speeding Extinction and Altering the Natural World at an ‘UnprecedentedPace,” The New York Times, accessed on 5/9/2019.

Henry David Thoreau,  The Journal 1837-1861, (New York;  The New York Review of Books, 2009), pg. 495.

——————————————————————————–

Selected favorite books on foraging, plants and herbs:

Katrina Blair, The Wild Wisdom of Weeds 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival, Chelsea Green Publishing, Vermont, 2014.

Steven Foster and James A. Duke, A Field Guide to Medicinal plants: Eastern/Central North America, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, 1990.

Euell Gibbons,  Staking the Wild Asparagus, David McKay Company, Inc., New York, 1962.

Rosemary Gladstar, Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide, Storey Publishing, North Adams, 2012.

NOTE: Elizabeth Kolbert writes about the IPBES report in the most recent New Yorker. Here is a link to the podcast: https://www.newyorker.com/podcast/comment/last-chances


Website by Roundhex. Adapted from Workality Plus by Northeme. Powered by WordPress
@