Hancock Shaker Village exhibits couple’s collection of Shaker artifacts

It took 45 years, but Hancock Shaker Village has finally completed its end of an agreement to publis

It took 45 years, but Hancock Shaker Village has finally completed its end of an agreement to publish a catalog of the collection of Shaker collectors Edward Deming Andrews and his wife, Faith Young Andrews.

The catalog has resulted in the museum’s latest exhibition, “Gather Up the Fragments: The Andrews Shaker Collection,” which runs through Oct. 31. Passion for all things Shaker, and the resultant issue of what to do with them, was the precursor to this exhibition.

Pittsfield natives, the Andrewses were born in the 1890s and married in 1922. The following year, they stopped to buy a loaf of bread in a Shaker community and were invited into a brick dwelling, which today is still a central building at the village.

Starting collection

This chance stop led to friendships in the Shaker community, and they began to collect Shaker items. One eldress of the community introduced the Andrewses to other Shaker communities at Mount Lebanon and Watervliet, so that by 1930 they had begun acquiring pieces from Shaker communities in the entire region, and the couple became known as experts on Shaker material culture and history.

‘Gather Up the Fragments: The Andrews Shaker Collection’

WHERE: Hancock Shaker Village, Route 20, Pittsfield, Mass.

WHEN: Through Oct. 31. Hours 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Oct. 19; by guided tour only after Oct. 19.

HOW MUCH: $15 for adults, $7.50 for youth ages 13-17. Children 12 and under are free.

MORE INFO: hancockshakervillage.org or (413) 443-0188

In 1932, they published their first book, and their big break came in 1935 when, through an acquaintanceship with the director of the Whitney Museum, Juliana Force, the museum underwrote an exhibition of their collection and the publication of “Shaker Furniture.”

This exhibition caught the attention of the art and culture crowd in New York City, who helped to bring Shaker design into the American vernacular, said Christian Goodwillie, curator of Hancock Shaker Village and this exhibition.

The Andrewses’ involvement with the Whitney Museum catapulted their careers as independent scholars, collectors and dealers of Shaker items. “They created this buzz around Shaker stuff that you could say has never quite stopped,” Goodwillie said.

In the 1940s, the couple began looking for a long-term home for their collection. One of the difficulties that arose was they not only collected the items themselves — from spiritual drawings and furniture to corsets and shoes — but they also collected printed works and manuscripts pertaining to Shaker life and culture.

They approached institutions such as the Smithsonian Institution and Yale University, but found out that those manuscripts would not be kept with the collection of Shaker items, but would be part of the collection of the Library of Congress, in the case of the Smithsonian, or integrated into library collection at Yale. Separating the documentation from the items was in no way acceptable to the Andrewses.

In the early 1950s, Amy Bess Miller approached the couple with a plan to purchase Shaker buildings to turn them into a museum. “[The Andrewses] were quite happy to partner with Miller and brought their collection to Miller,” Goodwillie said. When the Shaker Central Ministry closed the Hancock community in 1960, it sold the buildings and land, and Hancock Shaker Village opened the following year.

Artistic dispute

The happiness was short-lived. By 1962, the Andrewses felt that their expertise was not being used enough to decide about how the collection should be exhibited. An arbitrator decided that what the Andrewses had already brought to the village would remain there. Edward Andrews died in 1964. His wife, Faith, gave most of the rest of the couple’s collection, including the books and manuscripts, to the Winterthur Museum in Delaware, and she sold 30 pieces to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“Faith never forgave the museum for what she felt were the wrongs done to her and her husband,” Goodwillie said. Part of the arbitration agreement between the Andrewses and Hancock Shaker Village dictated that the village publish a catalog of their collection. In a 1983, Faith wrote a manuscript titled “The Hancock Story” that was not to be published in her lifetime. She wrote: “This treatise is submitted in the hope that history will eventually have access to the true Hancock story, the story of our efforts to establish the museum through our knowledge and collection. Only when this is accomplished can the full meaning of Hancock’s spiritual name ‘The City of Peace’ be restored.”


When Ellen Spear started as director of Hancock Shaker Village, Goodwillie brought her this information. “I told her there was a curse on the village that she ought to address,” he said. Goodwillie and Mario S. DePillis, professor emeritus of the University Massachusetts/Amherst, wanted to set the record straight about the Andrewses, who had been largely marginalized by more recent Shaker scholars who criticized the couple for romanticizing the Shakers too much. DePillis had been mentored by Edward Andrews and had been on the board of the museum when all the trouble happened.

Goodwillie and DePillis created a 400-page publication with pictures of hundreds of items and essays by them. Goodwillie wrote about the relationship between the Andrewses and the Shakers themselves, while DePillis wrote about the Andrewses’ relationship with those in the art and museum world.

The book includes the nice and the ugly. Some blame the Andrewses for having a negative impact on the Shaker community, as some individuals in the community sold items that were technically communal property but kept the money for themselves.

The title of the exhibition, “Gather Up the Fragments,” is a multiple metaphor, Goodwillie said. In all Shaker dining rooms, the Bible quotation “Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost” (John 6:12) was used to entreat those dining to eat everything on their plates. Goodwillie uses it because the Andrewses really did gather up the fragments of Shaker culture. Now, with this exhibition, Hancock Shaker Village is gathering up the fragments of the broken relationship between the Andrewses and the museum.

While there are items in the exhibition that one would expect, like the furniture for which the Shakers are so famous and the iconic “Tree of Life,” image, it is other, seemingly less significant items that distinguish the Andrewses as Shaker collectors and historians.

Goodwillie’s favorite item in the exhibition is a prime example of how the Andrewses did indeed gather up the fragments of Shaker material culture. It is a pasted-up box covered in broadsides advertising Sarsaparillia, Phthisis Eradicating Syrup and Vegetable Pulmonary Pills. When they found the box at Mount Lebanon circa 1950, it contained a sister’s net cap and shoe, a section of peg-rail, palm leaf bonnet braiding, a duster handle and a spool.

“All of the things in there are dirty, broken, worn out and should have been discarded,” Goodwillie said. “But [the Andrewses] were the type of people that would save even something like this, and save not only the box, but all of the content, and not separate them out, but keep them with the box.”

Wealth of information

The items the Andrewses collected are well-documented, giving information that “enriches them to a degree that is remarkable,” Goodwillie said.

“Gather Up the Fragments” also includes items from other museums and private collections in addition to Hancock Shaker Village’s collection. Goodwillie points out that this exhibition shows the very earliest major collection of Shaker material culture.

“It’s not just pretty furniture like most of the exhibits are. It’s actually got a good story behind it — a little emotion and a lot of passion, for sure,” he said.

Categories: Life and Arts

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