A Passion for a Special Place

Margaret Graves, Campaign Director

Ellen Chapman has a special passion for Shaker Village. She first visited Shaker Village as a young child with her grandmother Martha Ricker Ingels. Mrs. Ingels grew up in Harrodsburg, KY and had a camp on Lake Herrington where Ellen often visited in the summer. Ellen remembers her grandmother talking about how she would drive down US 68 when it went directly through Shaker Village. Ellen and her grandmother would bring friends or out of town guests to Shaker Village for lunch and to explore the legacy of the Shakers.

Chapman (left) pictured in front of the Trustees’ Office at Shaker Village.

Ellen joined the Shaker Village Board of Trustees in May, 2001. She was recruited to the Board by Mr. Alex G. Campbell who was a close friend of Ellen’s father, Mr. Ambrose W. “Buster” Givens. Jim Thomas was the President & CEO of Shaker Village at the time.

Ellen’s first task as a Board member was to help develop the trail system for horseback riding. Ellen and her friends continue to enjoy the trails at Shaker Village today. The Preserve at Shaker Village includes 3,000 acres and 37 miles of multi-use trails.

Chapman and friends on a trail ride.

Ellen also helped start the first Plen Air Painting workshops at Shaker Village. Thanks to these contributions Shaker Village continues to be a favorite spot for artists of all types.

Ellen has always had an interest in American Folk Arts, especially the Shakers’ incredible craftsmanship. She minored in art history at Hollins College. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Divisional Social Science in 1976 from Hollins College after graduating from Sayre School in 1972.

Ellen currently serves as the Co-Chair of the Campaign for Shaker Village and chairs the Board of Trustees’ Development Committee. She has worked tirelessly to encourage charitable giving to Shaker Village and under her leadership, she has helped to raise substantial funds for the preservation needs of its 34 historic structures. Ellen is passionate about sharing the legacy of the Pleasant Hill Shakers through exhibits and educational programing.  

Ellen has also given countless hours to a number of other non-profit organizations. She is an avid gardener and an active member of The Garden Club of Lexington having served as its President in 2006. She often arranges flowers for Shaker Village’s special events including the non-profit’s 50th Anniversary celebration in 2011. The Garden Club of Lexington awarded Shaker Village a Historic Preservation Commendation in 2013 and often supports Shaker Village’s projects. 

In addition, Ellen serves on the Triangle Foundation Board, the Lexington-Frankfort Scenic Corridor Board of Directors and the Colonial Dames Board of Directors.

She previously served on the Board of Directors of the Headley Whitney Museum and Baby Health Services.

Ellen’s family owns and operates Clay – Ingels, a leading supplier of quality building products since 1920. Clay- Ingels is a 4th generation family owned and operated business.

Ellen is a member of the First Presbyterian Church, the Iroquois Hunt Club and the Idle Hour Country Club where she is a top golfer.

Ellen and her husband Bill Chapman have three children: Will Chapman (Georgeanna) of Lexington, Clay Underwood (Martin) of Atlanta and Bowen Chapman (Leslie) of Charleston. Ellen and Bill are the proud grandparents of 10 grandchildren.

The Chapman family.

Ellen is a talented gardener, gracious hostess and tireless champion for the special places she cares deeply about.  We are grateful for her dedication and passion for Shaker Village!

Today in Pleasant Hill History – November 22

Jacob A. Glover, PhD, Director of Public Programs and Education

We’re unveiling a new series this afternoon that we are calling “Today in Pleasant Hill History” to share more of the Shaker stories we uncover all the time. We hope you enjoy, and let us know in the comments what types of things you all would like to hear about! Without further ado, we’re headed back to November 22, 1872, with a story that you may find eerily familiar:

“The most direful scourage, the Epizootic that has wrought such havoc among the horses in the Eastern Cities, & now spreading Westward, as now its appearance in among our Office horses, through the stage horses, & there is no telling the destruction it may work.”

Known as the “The Great Epizootic of 1872,” this was the worst outbreak of equine influenza in recorded history. In Buffalo, NY, one of the eastern cities referenced by the Shakers, The New York Times noted that there were “not enough well horses to carry merchandise through the streets.” By the following spring, the epizootic had apparently passed, and the Shakers did not mention it any further.

Photo Finish

Laura Webb, Program Specialist

It’s the penultimate month of our NEH grant project! Time sure flies, doesn’t it? Since July, I’ve completed editing over 13,800 object, archival, photographic, and library records. That’s right – the editing phase is now DONE! Whohoo!

So what’s next? From now until the end of the year, I’ll be reviewing the user interface of our online collections portal, and also (more excitingly) photographing objects in our exhibits and collections storage. As you might guess, adding photos of everything in our collection is a much larger project than can be completed on our current timeline—instead, I’ll be tackling my to-do list strategically.

To better understand how I’ll go about this, let’s think about why visually documenting artifacts is important. Some reasons are fairly obvious—there’s a reason “a picture is worth a thousand words” is a cliché, after all! But, assuming an object has already been photographed once, does it really need to have its picture taken again? Yes! Why? Well, let’s compare them to family photos. You wouldn’t say one photo of your kid is all you need, right? While inanimate objects aren’t going to grow up, go through puberty, and leave home, they can still (and often do) change over time, and these changes are important to document. The technology we use to document them can change and improve over time, too! (Just think of the difference in image quality between an early 2000s point-and-shoot camera and a current DSLR camera!)

Let’s study some examples. How might an object change over time? For us, a major factor is an object’s condition, whether good or bad. Sometimes objects are repaired, conserved, or restored, and it’s important to document both the “before” and the “after” of these processes. Also, unfortunately, sometimes objects are damaged – which can happen gradually (if kept in improper conditions) or suddenly (if improperly handled). Such is the case for the item below – a hand-thrown stoneware pitcher. I’ll let the notes on file do the explaining.

“Item was broken in 2014 by guest who claimed to be an expert potter, and therefore exempt from restrictions against touching. They quickly left and never gave a name. It now exists in multiple pieces.”

A stoneware pitcher (object ID SP79.82), before (left) and after (right) being broken.

Yikes! Good thing we had a photograph of the item before it was broken, right?

Here’s another example – this time, an item that we currently have only one photograph of on file. This pretty-in-pink silk neckerchief is lovely, but its current image doesn’t do it justice. The lighting is poor, which both affects the apparent hue and the visible detail. In addition, the neckerchief is crumpled, and you can’t see the entire object at once.

A rose-colored silk neckerchief (object ID 61.4.96), most likely made by Pleasant Hill Shakers.

Here’s one more example. This gorgeous blanket chest is currently on loan at the Speed Museum in Louisville, Kentucky (go tell it we said hello!). Compare the older, black-and-white image on the left to the most current photo on the right. While black-and-white images are helpful for noticing subtle, contrasting details that can get lost in a color image (like woodgrain or dovetail joints), the color image better represents the chest’s finish, and can also help with identifying the type of wood used.

A blanket chest of cherry and poplar (object ID 61.4.206). Left photo by SVPH staff c. 1960’s; right photo by Mack Cox, courtesy of the Speed Museum of Art.

As I’m photographing objects in the next six weeks, I will be taking color images in as high quality as possible, and taking multiple shots of each item to show different angles and details. I’ll also be focusing first on items that are currently on exhibit, to make sure we have good records of our most vulnerable artifacts. If you see a photographer in one of our exhibits working from a strange angle, it’s probably me – come say hi!

Prying with a Purpose

Laura Webb, Program Specialist

“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose. ” 
Zora Neale Hurston

When you think of a library, what comes to mind? Most people immediately think of their local public library, or perhaps their school or university library: a place where books and other materials can be browsed and checked out, and that has a large window of time in which the general public can come and go at will.

Reference material on rolling stack shelving – part of our research library holdings.

The above types are known as lending libraries or circulating libraries – that is, material can circulate (i.e., be borrowed from the library and leave the premises for a set amount of time). But did you know that there are multiple types of libraries? Pleasant Hill has our own library as part of our collections, and this library is a non-circulating, research library. What does this mean?

As you might have guessed, non-circulating means that our materials can be referenced within our collections storage building, but don’t leave the premises. Many public libraries have reference sections or reading rooms that contain non-circulating material. Research libraries serve a very particular purpose; that is, to aid in the research of a topic or range of topics. Therefore, while your local public library may have books on every topic and in every genre under the sun, ours focuses on material that will aid in research related specifically to Pleasant Hill. However, that doesn’t mean that we only have material about Pleasant Hill Shakers!

Past subject guides have been stored in this small card catalog.

Some of our material includes works about:

  • Other  Shaker communities
  • Other utopian and communal societies and groups
  • Kentucky and the surrounding region – its history, geography, ecology, and society
  • The ID and care of different types of artifacts (such as textiles, tools, and furniture)
  • Collections and historic site management and interpretation
  • The process of creating Shaker-style handicrafts

…and more! Not to mention fictional works about (or “inspired by”) the Pleasant Hill Shakers – including, oddly, quite a few paperback romance novels. These works assist in our research at SVPH – both internally, to develop interpretation and other programs, and externally, when we host outside researchers.

Our library also includes Special Collections – that is, works that are now rare, have special handling requirements, or both. This is where you’ll find most of our antique books with cool-looking covers, among other things.

Works from our Special Collections, bounded in leather (probably calfskin).

So, if our library includes antique publications, what is the difference between a library and an archive? Archives typically contain one-of-a-kind documents or original works – for example, a personal letter, manuscript draft, or even home video. These items were usually things that were privately made and held, rather than published and sold. While libraries also include documentary artifacts, these documents – regardless of if they’re circulating or non-circulating – are usually not one-of-a-kind (or, at least, were not at the time of their creation). Think of books, films, and music you’d be able to buy at a store when they were new.

As I’ve been going through our research library holdings for our NEH digitization project, I’ve been proofreading entries, adding additional information where feasible, and creating cross-references between related materials (such as other works in a series, works by the same author, or multiple copies or editions of the same work). When this catalog is available online, I hope you’ll have fun browsing our virtual stacks!

An Enduring Legacy

Jacob Glover, Ph.D., Director of Public Programs and Education

“Great architecture has this capacity to adapt to changing functional uses without losing one bit of its dignity or one bit of its original intention.

– Thomas Krens, former Director of the Guggenheim

As we approach the end of October and the 200th anniversary of the Pleasant Hill Meeting House, we have taken the opportunity to reflect on the both the history of the Meeting House and its continuing legacy and influence here at Shaker Village. As the quote that opens this blog post implies, the Meeting House has been remarkably resilient throughout the course of its existence and its many alterations since 1820.

When thinking about the original intention of the Meeting House for the Shakers at Pleasant Hill, it is important to keep in mind how the space was purpose-built to allow certain aspects of Shaker society to flourish. For the Shakers, the Meeting House was always about things such as unity, community, and faith. Of course, the Shakers’ religious beliefs influenced all aspects of their life, but the common worship area of the Meeting House was an extremely important physical space where the Shakers could gather on a weekly basis and reinforce communal ties, a shared sense of belonging, and strengthen their union with one another.

Special community events such as Illuminated Evenings, held on Saturdays in December, help continue the legacy of song that has long shaped the history of the Pleasant Hill Meeting House.

Given the important of these notions to the entire Shaker worldview, it is no wonder that the Meeting House held such a place of prominence in every community. When Shaker brothers and sisters danced and sang with each other, they cemented bonds that not only held together the community at Pleasant Hill — these actions provided a shared identity for Shakers all across America who danced the same dances and sang the same songs in similar buildings from Maine to Ohio.

The materials used to construct the Meeting House tie the building to centuries of history in central Kentucky. These trusses, seen in the attic, allow for the open space on the first floor that were key to Shaker worship.

At Shaker Village today, the Meeting House retains much of its original charm and capacity to inspire, even if the form and shape of that inspiration holds different meanings for us than it did for the Shakers. The sense of belonging and togetherness that was so important to the Shakers remains present in our daily Shaker music programs and special events like the Community Sing and Illuminated Evenings, as building community through song is still as strong an influence as ever.

The solidity and permanence of the Meeting House is also reminder of the power of place in a modern world that seems to become more transient and transparent by the day. Walking in the attic, the massive king posts and trusses are reminders of the ancient forests of central Kentucky and the long years that the oak trees graced the Bluegrass before they were hewed by the Shakers to build such a lasting testament to their architectural skills and their faith.

At Pleasant Hill, we remain as committed as ever to inspiring our local communities and state by sharing the legacies of the Kentucky Shakers, and the Meeting House will continue to be an integral part of that mission for our organization.

Join us at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill on Saturday, October 31, 2020, for the 200th Anniversary celebration of the Meeting House. Special tours of the Meeting House focusing on Shaker song, dance and the building’s architecture will be available with purchase of admission.