Saturday, July 26, 2008

the walls are excellent & high & upon an horizontal line

in 1795, when shirley, massachusettes, was a community of 200 shakers living on three thousand acres, an outside observer recorded, "the walls are excellent & high & upon an horizontal line, & as straight as they can be laid."

inspired by visionary experiences, the gift drawings bridge the heavenly and the earthly spheres.
...imaging heaven as a perfectly balanced array of circles, squares, and rectangles that signified walls, architectural structures, and roads (cat. 38). others depicted delicately rendered trees, fruits, flowers, and other natural forms, as well as shaker meeting houses, chairs, tables, clocks, chains, necklaces, and other human-made structures and objects, rendered more decorative than those common in daily life on earth. other gift drawings are replete with esoteric symbols, including masonic symbols such as the all-seeing eye and checkerboard patterns. gift drawings are also typically distinguished by their precise graphic quality, which links words elegantly written in upright, noble scripts with their delicately rendered visual counterparts as unified elements of thoroughly structured designs. portraying heaven as an idealized image of the earth, the gift drawings exemplified the shakers' view of their community...

images & text from shaker gift drawings and gift songs, the drawing center, ucla hammer, & university of minnesota press, 2001

view titles of images here ***

another fine book to consider:
shaker design, whitney norton - whitney museum of american art, 1986


jgrzinich said...

This is somehow really inspiring for me. It fulfills many of the notions of "utopia" we come to idealize through more recent movements (communes and today's environmental movement). But, back in the day these folks were absolutely blessed by the fact that they had this unique time and space which allowed them to dedicate their attention to pondering the coordination of their 'society' as depicted in these diagrams.

gossamer said...

thanks for the nice comment,
it is definitely very inspiring.
especially the care they put into seeking perfection and acheiving it through repetition & pattern... every bit of quiet detail mattered in their daily surroundings - which really does evoke a rare beauty and craftsmanship in their work - the unique time and space being an important given factor...