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.


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 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. 


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