Shaker in Chicago | Loyola University Museum of Art | Galleries | Chicago Reader

Shaker in Chicago Closing (Theater and Galleries) Recommended Image

When: March 20-April 26 2015

Of all the religious sects in the world, there is probably none more American than the United Society of Believers, or Shakers, who combined mysticism and a utopian vision with Yankee ingenuity, a talent for entrepreneurship and PR, and excellent design sense. The Loyola University Museum of Art is currently showing three exhibits of their art, music, furniture, and architecture, collectively known as "Shaker in Chicago." Mother Ann Lee, the first Shaker, emigrated with her followers from Manchester, England, to New York State in 1774. By 1840, at the height of the movement, there were 6,000 Shakers in 18 villages in the northeast and midwest. Men and women lived separately and celibately but governed equally. They danced and sang—there are several hymnbooks in the exhibit—and a few, mostly young women, experienced mystical visions of heaven, which they recorded in precise yet enigmatic gift drawings and sacred sheets. "The gift drawings are hard to interpret," says Pam Ambrose, the museum's director. "They were writing in tongues, and there's more esoteric symbolism. The Shakers rarely talked about them." Instead, in 1843 they sent out an explanation of their beliefs to world leaders, the 450-plus-page manifesto A Holy, Sacred, and Divine Roll and Book: From the Lord God of Heaven to the Inhabitants of the Earth (a copy of which is also on display). "It was a PR vehicle," says Ambrose. "They didn't want to be viewed as eccentric." Their best PR, though, was their furniture and architecture, with their clean, simple lines and exquisite construction. In the mid-1800s, the Shakers realized they could support their communities by selling their work to outsiders, known as the World. Though there are only three Shakers left, their aesthetic is everywhere."They had a huge impact on Danish modern and midcentury modern designers," Ambrose says. (And, in a more debased form, Ikea.) "You can still see it, especially in a city like Chicago, where there's such an emphasis on design." —Aimee Levitt

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