2016 Trip Seven, The Berkshires, Sept 18-19

Hancock, MA. Sept. 19

The Big Round Barn at Hancock Shaker Village

The Big Round Barn at Hancock Shaker Village

“Hands to work, hearts to God”. This was one of the more famous sayings of the Shakers, a small religious movement in the 1800s and 1900s. Numbering less than 7000 souls at its peak, the Shakers were more formally titled The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Coming and began in England. The Shakers were celibate and believed in pacifism and equality of the sexes. There were about 18 Shaker communities in the United States and were well-known for the quality of their furniture and textiles. Unlike the Amish, the Shakers embraced new technology and methods of production. The Shakers practiced a form of worship that included singing and vibrant dancing, frequently making the floors of the worship room shake; hence the term “Shakers”.

An example of Shaker furniture

An example of Shaker furniture

There is only one active Shaker community in the U.S.now, in Maine. Today, Monday the 19th, we visited a restored 750 acre Shaker Village in Hancock, Massachusetts. This locale did have as many as 300 residents at its peak in the early 1900s. They farmed, grew and sold seeds and farm produce, and manufactured wood furniture. The community closed down in 1960 and the village is maintained by a local non-profit educational organization.

The round stone barn on the property was notable for several reasons. At the time, it was likely the largest barn in New England. The round shape facilitated a unique dairying process, with hay stored in the center (which also provided heat in the winter), a basement level that allowed manure to be easily gathered and removed from the barn, and a second level that allowed hay wagons to drive in and unload (and to store hay on wagons when it was raining outside). The cows were attached to stanchions and easily milked by a person moving onto usually along the circular path. The Shakers believed in straight lines so the construction of a round barn needed special approval from the elders to be built.

Brick house residence for Shakers

Brick house residence for Shakers

The Shakers seemed to embrace their lifestyle. Music was a part of their daily life, with songs for play and for differing forms of work. They were proud of the work they did, it was essential but it was also an opportunity to demonstrate quality and workmanship. Yet, they were humble, not allowing anyone to get a big head, and kept the products basic but well-made.

Yesterday, Sunday, our major touring event was a visit to the Norman Rockwell Museum 30 miles south of Hancock in Stockbridge, MA. Sunday started easy with breakfast at the unit and then the four of us went to church in Pittsfield. We had brunch at the restaurant “Eat on North”, part of the “Hotel on North”. Hotel on North is in an old furniture and retail store in downtown Pittsfield that has been beautifully restored and has been open for about two years. Between the four, we had three different brunch entrees and all were excellent.

Norman Rockwell was an American icon to my generation and those earlier. Born in 1894, he began a career as an illustrator while still in his teens. His first regular job was as the art director for Boy’s Life, the magazine for the Boy Scouts. By age 22, he had sold his first illustrations for the “Saturday Evening Post”. (Brief history may be needed for some. The Saturday Evening Post was a national weekly magazine that for decades was one of three magazines (Life, Look and Post) that set the standards and the news for Americans. Having your art work on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post was big, big stuff. Over his career, Rockwell illustrated 321 covers for the Post.

Rockwell started his career primarily drawing young people, an outgrowth of this work with Boy’s Life. His work usually reflected small-town American life. A perfectionist in his work, Rockwell drew numerous sketches, hired live models, and used photographs of the pose and details he wanted to include in this final illustration. The painting below demonstrates some of his attention to detail. Note some items that indicate the marriage license was being taken out late Friday afternoon: the quantity of discarded cigarette butts, the calendar with today’s page already being torn off in favor of tomorrow-Saturday, and the U.S. flag has been taken down for the day.

The Marriage License by Norman Rockwell

The Marriage License by Norman Rockwell

During WWII, Rockwell did a series of four paintings that portrayed Franklin Roosevelt’s 1940 State of the Union speech listing the four freedoms all citizens of the world should be able to enjoy: the freedom of speech, the freedom of worship, the freedom from fear, and the freedom from want. It took Rockwell two years to get the paintings done the way he wanted them. The U.S. Treasury took the four paintings on tour around the country and they helped raise $130,000,000 in war bonds.

The Four Freedoms by Norman Rockwell

The Four Freedoms by Norman Rockwell

The Post was a controlling organization. For instance, Rockwell and other illustrators were not allowed to show African-Americans in other than service level jobs. In 1963, he left the Post and began putting his illustrations in Look magazine. During his Look period, his work more broadly reflect America and its problems of the day. During his career, he drew illustrations for commercial ventures like Coke and Pepsi, playing cards and calendars for Brown and Bigelow, paintings of famous people like Eisenhower and Kennedy as well as illustrations for books.

The studio where Rockwell did much of his later work

The studio where Rockwell did much of his later work

Rockwell died in 1978, living the last 25 years of his life in Stockbridge. Serous art critics downplayed his work as simplistic but recently his work has been more highly regarded. Whether art critics are listened to or not, the people of America call him one of their own. The museum does an excellent job of showing and describing a selection of his original work. Included on the grounds is the studio where he worked during the latter years of his life.

Chris, Rebecca and Deb and the board game Alhambra

Chris, Rebecca and Deb and the board game Alhambra

The evening finished up with Deb, Rebecca, Chris and Ed playing a board game. Deb won but we continued it Monday morning and ended with everyone winning but Ed.

Ed and Chris

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