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Simple Gifts: Shaker at The Met

Simple Gifts

July 13, 2016–August 6, 2017

Location:  The Met Fifth Avenue, Gallery 746,
The Erving and Joyce Wolf Gallery, Floor 1

The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing—also known as the Shakers—is a utopian religious sect that rose to prominence in the 19th century. The simplicity and utility for which Shaker apparel, furniture, and architecture are known stem from the sect’s religious beliefs and customs, which stress social, gender, economic, and spiritual equality for all members.

Simple Gifts: Shaker at The Met, which opened July 13 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, features more than two dozen examples of primarily mid-19th-century furniture, textiles, and domestic objects by Shaker craftspeople. Many of the works came to The Met from the collection of Faith and Edward Deming Andrews, the leading collectors and scholars of Shaker culture from the 1930s through the 1960s, who were heralded for stimulating widespread interest in Shaker design and antiques.

Simple Gifts: Shaker at The Met focuses on the Museum’s collection of Shaker furniture and textiles. Through pairings with related objects, the installation shows how Shaker design overlapped with other design styles while continuing to reflect those distinctive attributes that are rooted in the community’s beliefs. Aspects of this uniquely religious and craft-oriented community itself are considered in the thematically organized installation. A rare red child’s cloak, multicolored oval boxes with shapely “fingers,” and a sky-blue blanket chest explore the characteristic Shaker palette that became highly desirable to 20th-century collectors like Faith and Edward Deming Andrews.

The installation also illustrates the lasting impact of the Shakers on modern design and performance. Shaker artifacts are grouped near key works by the modern artist Charles Sheeler (1883–1965), and a video projection shows Martha Graham performing the ballet Appalachian Spring. Choreographed by Graham to Aaron Copland’s timeless musical score, the ballet was performed on a stage set by Isamu Noguchi. All three artists were inspired by Shaker life.

The installation was organized by Alyce Perry Englund, Assistant Curator of American Decorative Arts, the American Wing.

It will be featured on The Met website, as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Related programs will include a series of gallery talks.

A complete Shaker interior—the North Family Retiring Room, from New Lebanon, New York, from around 1830–40—is on view nearby, in gallery 734, within the American Wing’s suite of historic interiors.

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Updated March 13, 2017


Image: Oval Box. American, 1800–1900. Maple, pine. 4 11/16 x 11 5/16 x 8 15/16 in. Friends of the American Wing Fund, 1966 (66.10.36a, b)

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