PITTSFIELD -- Dippers and pails, a bentwood chandalier, in smooth wood -- amber streaked with light, crinkled honey, or dense and dark as cloves -- "Wood Works" will open at the Hancock Shaker Village on Saturday, wth a reception on Friday from 4 to 6 p.m.
Curator and collections manager Lesley Herzberg wanted newly made pieces, from spoons to tables, all small enough to take home. And she wanted work in the Shaker vein of simple and streamlined craft -- Shaker style translates well to contemporary design, she said.
So she went looking for a new take on Shaker.
She spread the word through crafters who work with the village, through the Berkshire Woodworkers Guild and the Sabbathday Lake Shaker community, she said.
For this show, 12 woodworkers, including Jim Law and other members of the Berkshire Woodworkers Guild, have each made several pieces.
The show will bring together work "from wooden bowls to furniture, wash stands, tables, chairs," said Laura Wolf, director of operations and marketing at the Village, "by artisans who appreciate the Shaker aesthetic -- high quality wood, fine detail, clean lines."
Chris Becksvoort, a woodworker near Sabbathday Lake, has an international reputation and has played himself on the NBC show "Parks and Recreation."
Steve Grasselli teaches workshops at the Village. (He will offer a one-on-one chimney corner workshop this fall, scheduled flexibly.)
And Tim Rieman, a longtime friend of the Village and a Shaker scholar, advised Herzberg on her exhibit, "Fakes and Forgeries," a close look at Shaker chairs, which fills the first half of the Poultry House and invites visitors to make their own guesses about which ones are real.
The pieces in "Wood Works" can incorporate new materials.
Shakers used cherry wood, butternut, fruit woods, but they would have used more pine, she said, more sturdy, common wood. These woodworkers use tiger maple, mahogany, walnut, and fruitwoods throughout.
And they bring out the grain, especially an unusual and eye-catching one, as golden as a curly birch. The Shakers had a value for plain surfaces, as they had for clean lines and simple designs that did the job they were made for as smoothly as possible.
But Shaker tastes varied over time, Herzberg added. Even when they painted their furniture to give it a smooth color, they often painted it lightly, so the grain in the wood showed through, and in the later 19th century some stripped off the paint, or made new furniture that left bare the color and texture of the wood.
The Shakers also tended and sought out different kinds of living wood. They had a sense of what different kinds of wood would do well, she said. They tended their forests and encouraged kinds of trees they needed -- like black ash for baskets.
The crafters in "Wood Works" blend Shaker design and contemporary design, as well as contemporary materials.
A trestle table has a Shaker-style wooden top with iron legs, giving a hard modern edge. Shakers built tables to move easily within a room, she said. This one stands solidly.
The show even has tromp l’oeil work -- a candle stand with carved books standing on top, like a sculpture.
Herzberg has taken on programming the rotating exhibits in the Poultry House gallery this year, and she has loved it, she said.
She has enjoyed meeting artists and seeing people come back to the village several times in a season to see each new show.
She sees changes daily at the village -- changing seasons, growing animals, new crafters giving demonstrations on different skills, from woodworking to weaving, iron work to cooking -- but they are not always obvious. A new show makes a clear shift.
And this new show, inviting contemporary inventors and artists to think with and about Shaker artists and inventors over the past two centuries, forms a living link -- between livng trees and living minds.
A tree felled to make a table today may have stood when the Hancock Shakers climbed the mountain on festival days, singing and dreaming and praying, 150 years ago.
If you go ...
What: ‘Wood Works’ show
When: Reception Friday, 4 to 6 p.m. Show opens Saturday
What: Willis Henry Auction
When: Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: Hancock Shaker Village, 1843 West Housatonic St., Routes 20 and 41, Pittsfield
Admission: Free with Musem admission