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Hancock Shaker Village selects firm known for specializing in visitor experiences to 'reimagine' its Visitor Center

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Hancock Shaker Village announced the selection of TSKP X IKD as the architectural and design firm that will reimagine its Visitor Center during a press conference on Thursday. Seated left to right, former Director Jennifer Trainer Thompson, newly appointed Executive Director and CEO Nathaniel Silver, and Yugon Kim and Tomomi Itakura of TSKP X IKD.

PITTSFIELD — By this time next fall, a planned “reimagining” of Hancock Shaker Village’s Visitor Center should be underway.

The remodel and renovation, announced Thursday by newly appointed Executive Director Nathaniel Silver, will include climate-controlled collection storage, open storage for premiere objects in the museum’s collection, a vault, library, reading room, digital media room and other spaces dedicated to increased programming with an emphasis on addressing the need to provide broader year-round accessibility, multilingual films and signage.

“This is a very exciting day for us because we are announcing today that we have chosen, after a long and extensive search, the firm TSKP X IKD to work with us on a master plan and to work with us to transform our Visitor Center,” Silver said.

TSKP X IKD, which has offices in Boston and San Francisco, has been asked to reimagine the center, he said, “in a way that will be a transformative experience for visitor experience. The firm’s clients include over 35 museums, including the Museum of Fine Art and Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

OPENED IN 2000

Opened in June 2000 as the Center for Shaker Studies at Hancock Shaker Village, the L-shaped building at the west end of the 750-acre historic village includes the Visitor Center and galleries, a restaurant, gift shop, a library and storage spaces. The building cost $2.5 million.

The remodel involves the portion of the Visitor Center, that includes the ticket desk, gallery, conference room and public bathrooms.

“The renovations will include all of those spaces that we have referred to as the Center for Shaker Studies such as the vault, library, reading room, digital media room, and open storage for the premiere objects in our substantial collection of Shaker artifacts,” said Carolyn McDaniels, director of communications and marketing, in an email. “While some of those spaces are part of the present layout, the renovations will improve the storage spaces and make them more accessible year-round.

“So that we can look at the entire west end of the property holistically, we are asking the architects to also provide a master plan for the gift shop, café and administrative offices in order to see what the entire visitor experience can be in the future.”

A budget and timeline for the project, still in the nascent stage, will be determined by the soon-to-start design process. A capital fundraising campaign is anticipated in the near future.

Plans include two or three galleries and open-collection storage on the first floor of the center, allowing the living history museum to share the story of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, more commonly known as the Shakers, through its collection of roughly 22,000 items, which range from furniture to textiles and artwork

“It will allow us to give visitors a kind of introduction and background to the Village that they need and that they deserve. And it will allow us to enhance our unparalleled collection that we have here and to protect it for for future,” Silver said. “In fact, our incredible curator Linda Johnson was just giving me the grand tour yesterday and I was struck not only by the diversity of objects [in the collection] but by the incredible quality and the level of preservation of it and by the intact colors.

“The brilliant colors of the Shakers, that perhaps some people don’t realize or don’t appreciate, are something that we will be able to highlight in a new way with this kind of project and really be able to give visitors the full picture and panorama of what this collection includes in a way that does justice to it.”

Former Director Jennifer Trainer Thompson said the new gallery spaces will allow for the display of sensitive collection items which cannot be displayed in the museum’s historic spaces because they do not have heat or other climate controls.

Among the highlights of the collection are a piece a dress belonging to the religious sect’s founder Mother Ann Lee, from 1770, and Shaker “Gift Drawings,” watercolors on paper that were said to be messages from Mother Ann relayed to Shakers in dreams after her passing. Currently, the museum can only display replicas of the watercolors because the village lacks proper climate and light controls.

“I’m so thrilled with these developments. Twenty-two years ago, when this was built, it was always the dream to have collection storage on the second floor of the Visitor Center. So, in many ways, this is the realization of the dream and something that the Village has been working on quietly for a few years,” said Trainer Thompson, who had originally overseen the project.

PLANS BEGAN IN 2018

Discussions with the board of trustees, about the need to renovate and remodel the Visitors Center began in 2018, she said, but were eventually put on hold by the coronavirus pandemic. In February, an 11-member building committee, chaired by Harlow Murray, kicked the project into high gear, before selecting TSKP X IKD at the beginning of August.

Silver, who was not part of the selection process, noted he had previously worked with TSKP X IKD in his former curatorial role at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

Tomomi Itakura and Yugon Kim, founding partners of IKD, who were on hand for the Thursday’s announcement, also were selected to renovate the first floor of the Berkshire Museum. Their firm has worked extensively with museums in the Berkshires, including exhibition projects at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown and the Austin Riggs Center in Stockbridge. Kim is the director of TSKP Studio’s Boston office and oversaw the design and construction of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s extension.

John Skavlem, director of development, said TSKP X IKD was chosen not only because of its vast experience working with museums and cultural institutions, but also because it values and embraces accessibility, sustainability, and inclusivity — all things that were important to the Shakers’ daily lives.

Itakura emphasized their firm’s holistic approach.

“If you look at our portfolio, you’ll see we don’t really have a style. We go into every project looking for the right solutions for that particular project,” she said. “For a project like this, we really want to embody the Shaker values and come up with the right solutions.”

Silver said Kim and Itakura specialize in museums and in enhancing visitor experiences.

“I’m an objects person,” Itakura added, mentioning her own curatorial background. “The historical collection here is unparalleled. We’re just honored to have this opportunity to have the chance to present the collection in such a way that is inspiring and engaging.”

Kim added, “One thing that we feel is unique about our firm is that, as Tomomi said, she looks at the objects. I look at the building. And so we have this kind of parallel track where we look from the object out and then from the building in.

“In many kind of museum projects, it’s not always that way it’s the building first and then the objects within. There’ll be a continuous dialogue between what is the right size and scale of kind of display area. What is it the kind of display experience that the Village would to like showcase or highlight the collection? And so they’ll be a realtor thing of synergy and melding between interior and exterior to figure out what is the right way.”

Jennifer Huberdeau can be reached at jhuberdeau@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6229. On Twitter: @BE_DigitalJen.

Features Editor

Jennifer Huberdeau is The Eagle's features editor. Prior to The Eagle, she worked at The North Adams Transcript. She is a 2021 Rabkin Award Winner, 2020 New England First Amendment Institute Fellow and a 2010 BCBS Health Care Fellow.

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