ABOUT THE EXHIBITION
HANDLED WITH CARE: Shaker Master Crafts and the Art of Barbara Prey
A collaboration between Hancock Shaker Village and the New Britain Museum of American Art
This year, we celebrate the 250th anniversary of The United Society of Believers, more commonly called Shakers, in America. This current exhibition continues the series of Masterworks of Shaker Design by recognizing a special dimension of the Shakers’ work: their finely crafted, and now beautifully preserved, small crafts. Once despised and persecuted for their beliefs of Communal ownership of all goods and property, Confession of sins in private, and Celibacy—the “three C’s”—most people now adore so much about the Shakers. This love certainly extends to their long handcraft tradition.
We also celebrate the achievements of the world-renowned contemporary artist, Barbara Ernst Prey. Barbara accepted a commission from Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in 2018-2019, to execute a series of large-scale paintings in watercolor and dry brush of any subject that engaged her attention and admiration. Her subject turned out to be both as simple and as complex as the interplay of natural light and Hancock’s built environment. The results were ten astonishing works, six of which she generously lent to this exhibition. The title of her series is “Borrowed Light.” This references both the presence of natural light within Hancock Shaker Village and, by extension, the Godly illumination with which Shaker life has been imbued for all of those 250 years.
From the start, the Shakers brethren and sisters made most of what was required to live independently: tools, baskets, tubs and pails, sewing boxes and others for storage, cleaning and measuring devices, and a wide variety of goods—both grown and fabricated—for sale to the outside World. This exhibition features nearly 100 varieties of these works, all of which have two attributes in common: all have handles and all have survived in a fine state of preservation. All of the objects on view here were made more than 100 years ago and some twice that long.