On Exhibit: Shakers’ legacy on view at Albany International Airport

Albany International Airport Gallert exhibit it titled "Everyday Perfection"
"Humble Monument" by Kate Hamilton
"Humble Monument" by Kate Hamilton

Things are blown out of proportion and out of time in “Everyday Perfection,” at the Albany International Airport Gallery.

Take the magnified textile weave of Laura Kaufman’s “Draped Twill” installation, or the overwhelmingly large translucent bubble wrap and sail cloth bonnet by Kate Hamilton, which greets viewers coming up the stairway to the gallery. 

The latter is the first reference to what the exhibition is inspired by and it’s certainly tough to miss. The exhibition is grounded in regional history with historical artifacts from the Shaker Museum / Mount Lebanon and the Shaker Heritage Society. From spools to spinning wheels, the objects speak to how the Shakers valued hard work and community over self. 

Of course, pieces like Matt LaFleur’s “Let Us Labor” explore those ideals as well, putting them into a modern context. In the sculpture, a brightly-colored saw toothed wheel, akin to a distorted merry-go-round, rests beneath a roughed up chopping block. With its jagged edges and clearly used block, it reflects the intense attitude the Shakers had about physical labor. 

“One of the pathways through which they sought to express devotion was through the tasks of daily living — those requiring great exertion as well as those defined by methodical precision,” reads one of the label texts in the exhibition. 

The Shakers or The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing first came to the United States in 1774, after escaping religious persecution in England. One of their first settlements was in Watervliet, where they were able to build a community based upon the ideas of shared property, peace between sexes, celibacy and devotion to the divine spirit. They became well-known for their handmade goods, including furniture and clothing, as well as for their innovative agricultural technology. 

Though there are very few Shakers left today — according to the exhibition, there are only two — their legacy lives on and has inspired many artists from around the globe, including Amie Cunat. 

A bright yellow glow precedes her installation, “Room With Hangers,” hinting at modernity. The room of saturated colors greets the viewers, with a pink rocking chair, and adjoining yellow rug, and wooden hangers, set in the style that the Shakers designed. Cunat’s interpretation of the Shakers’ interiors was inspired by a visit to Hancock Shaker Village. 

Other artists like Melissa Thorne are fascinated with the patterns that the Shakers used to create woven chair seats. Using shimmering sherbet-like colors, mixing watercolor and ink on solid dark backgrounds, Thorne has created a series of pieces that echo the past as much as the present. 

Hamilton’s enormous bonnet, called “Humble Monument,” is a tribute to the impeccable needlework of Shaker women.

Though they often wore what looked like simple clothing, each detail was usually perfect, from the seams to the trim. 

Another Hamilton installation brings to mind costumes from Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” with several mesh caps floating jellyfish-like against a stark black background. 

The artist studied the mesh caps in the collection of the Shaker Museum/ Mount Lebanon and was interested by how each was precisely made like the rest, pointing to the value the Shakers placed on conformity. 

In perhaps the most surprising series in the exhibition pieces of frayed and dismembered square samplers are stapled to the exhibition walls. Some are mostly pinned together, with only a strand or two of fabric straggling beneath; others are missing entire patches and have been stapled to the wall so many times that the wall is crumbling behind it. 

Created by Elana Herzog, the series, called “Samplers,” explores the fragility of fabric, cutting and weaving old cloth to make something new. 

It rounds out “Everyday Perfection,” which reflects on the influence of the Shaker community, even as the group’s population has nearly died out. The exhibit’s on view until Sept. 2. For more info visit albanyairport.com

Categories: Art, Entertainment, Life and Arts


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