Woodson Art Museum staff can easily get attached to exhibitions, and I have to admit that I’ll be sad to see the Shaker exhibition exit our galleries next week. This winter, Gather Up the Fragments: The Andrews Shaker Collection offered visitors a journey back to an intriguing chapter of American history. The story of the rise and decline of Shaker communities in America can be told through their inventions, craftsmanship, and utilitarian objects currently on view in the galleries. The Shakers, one of the longest surviving religious communities in America, were a dynamic and ever-evolving group of artisans and innovators.
The Andrews collection of decorative arts and Shaker artifacts is stunning in both breadth and quality. A collection this large – over 200 objects! – rarely travels and its presence in Wausau will not soon be forgotten.
I had an affinity for Shaker material culture before the arrival of this exhibition. I grew up an only child whose parents enjoyed antiques, historic homes, and museums. One of my family’s favorite get-away destinations for a fall road trip was Pleasant Hill, Kentucky – one of the best-preserved and most-popular historic Shaker villages open to the public. Pleasant Hill is the only Shaker settlement where visitors can stay overnight in the original rooms of stately dwelling houses carefully preserved to convey the community’s zenith in the mid-nineteenth century. I went through a brief phase of feigned athleticism as a pre-teen, and I remember losing a baseball down a gutter while playing catch with my dad at Pleasant Hill. I remember trying corn mush for the first time in the Pleasant Hill dining hall one morning and after adding a pad of butter and generous amounts of maple syrup found it to be quite palatable. My parents will drive up to Wausau from Chicago this weekend to visit – just in time to take in the exhibition before it closes on January 20. I look forward to recalling our visits to Pleasant Hill together as we create new memories in the galleries.
I never would have guessed that the Shakers – a community of individuals so foreign to me – would evoke such memories. But I suppose that’s what makes museum experiences so special; they can spark a memory or be the basis for a new one.
Have you created a museum memory in the New Year? It’s the perfect time to bring the family together and make a connection to art and one another. I promise, you’ll never see things the same way again.