New York’s Shaker Museum has revealed renderings of its forthcoming $18 million permanent home in the Hudson Valley village of Chatham. Once complete, the museum will house an expansive collection of objects, archival materials, and, of course, furniture, associated with the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, a nontrinitarian, restorationist Christian sect more commonly known as the Shakers. The museum’s collection, viewable online but currently in storage and physically out of public view for over a decade, is the most comprehensive assemblage of materials dedicated to the Shaker movement in the world.
First announced last August, Selldorf Architects is leading the design of the $18 million museum facility, a project that involves the adaptive reuse of a Victorian-era former hotel building in downtown Chatham and a new addition. As shown in the renderings, the existing brick hotel will be connected to the new structure via a tri-level, glass-encased passageway. Spread across four floors and 30,000 square feet of space, the $18 million complex at 5 Austerlitz Street is set to include ample space for permanent and special exhibitions; community event space; a public reading room, and a climate-controlled conservation and storage facility, funded in part by a $550,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities announced last December. Joining Selldorf Architects on the project is Nelson Byrd Woltz, which will oversee the design of a Shaker-inspired landscape for the complex. The proposed design was met with enthusiasm when plans were first formally presented to Chatham’s Village Planning Board in April.
“Shaker Museum will be a world-class cultural institution that tells the Shaker story through both the exploration of material objects and the values by which this extraordinary group lived,” Lacy Schutz, the museum’s executive director, elaborated in a statement shared with AN. “The facility itself will include permanent and rotating exhibitions that contextualize the collection and the Shaker ethos. State-of-the-art climate-controlled storage facilities will help us preserve and protect the collection for generations to come, including the most fragile and significant artifacts.”
“Community event space, a roster of ongoing programming, and abundant gardens that celebrate Shaker culture will all come together to create a place that anchors and welcomes all within the larger Chatham community,” added Schutz.
In addition to the NEH grant for the on-site storage facility, the museum also received a $230,000 grant from Henry Luce Foundation in April that will be used to fund the inaugural permanent collection installation, Shaker Belief, Shaker Life, Shaker Community.
Renderings and further details about the forthcoming museum complex, anticipated to be completed in 2023, are now on view alongside select Shaker objects as part of a special pop-up exhibition titled The Future is a Gift.
The temporary exhibition, which, per the museum, “celebrates how the museum itself will keep the Shaker legacy alive in its new facility with design details including floorplans, renderings and other features of the cultural institution,” will be on view at 5 Main Street in downtown Chatham through August 29. In addition to teasing the forthcoming museum complex and showcasing pieces from the collection, The Future is a Gift also promotes the Shaker Museum’s freshly launched 2021 Summer Series. The series will include a slew of events and gatherings held both online and at and around historic Mount Lebanon, the 91-acre spiritual home of the Shaker movement that was first established in 1787. (Notably, the summer series also involves the sale of limited-edition Shaker goods, including rolling pins and sewing kits, for simplicity-embracing DIYers.)
Located roughly 20 minutes down the road from the museum’s future permanent home near New York’s border with Massachusetts, the grounds of the National Historic Landmark-listed Mount Lebanon and its original Shaker buildings—ten in total, including the iconic Great Stone Barn—are currently open to the public. The Shaker Museum’s administrative campus and research library, where the collection itself is now housed in several old farm buildings, is located in nearby Old Chatham. It is open to the public by appointment only. Shaker Museum will continue to maintain the historic Mount Lebanon site once the new complex in Chatham in complete and operational. The Old Chatham campus, which will be essentially relocated in its entirety to the new facility, will be divested by the museum.
While Mount Lebanon has long been a popular draw for visitors to Columbia County and the greater Hudson Valley and Berkshires regions, the new museum complex in the heart of Chatham will bestow the institution, first founded in 1950 (three years after the last seven remaining Shakers in New York left Mount Lebanon,) with a new level of visibility thanks to a state-of-the-art venue in which to tell the Shaker story.
As for the timing of the new museum complex, one designed by a firm celebrated for its transformative work with museums and cultural institutions, it couldn’t be better: Contemporary enthusiasm for minimalistic, Shaker-style furniture is showing no signs of wavering, while the inclusive, community-bettering ideals espoused by the utopian movement—one also centered around celibacy, pacifism, and gender equality—seem particularly germane moving out of the pandemic and into the future.
“This museum is as much about the local community as it is about the wider global exploration of Shaker culture. It is as much about the present and the future, as it is about the past,” said Schutz. “We couldn’t be more excited about what we are creating here.”