The End of the Beginning

Laura Webb, Program Specialist

That’s a wrap, folks! My time officially working on the NEH grant project has come to an end, and so does this blog series. While I’ve been the primary public “voice” of the project over the last six months, this has truly been a team effort, and so I wanted to leave you with a more holistic view of what this work has entailed. In their own words, let me introduce just some of the many other people who have had a role in this project over the last six months.

  • Billy Rankin, Vice President of Public Programming & Organizational Strategy, “took an executive lead with this project, supporting the efforts of our management and collections team.
  • Jacob Glover, Director of Public Programs and Education, “fulfilled the oversight role after the reorganization of our department’s leadership positions.
  • Maggie McAdams, Education and Engagement Manager, “lent additional guidance to how to effectively use this content once updated.
  • Becky Soules, Curator of Collections, was“hired in November of 2020 as the new Curator of Collections, and had the unique experience of joining the project after it was well underway.
  • Melissa Donahoo, Development Coordinator, “wrote the original grant narrative for the request (with input from the Grant Team) and put together the application for submission.” She also “ensured we stayed on track and on budget; this included submitting an interim grant report and accounting reports and requests.
  • Shelby Jones, Director of Communications, “posted and promoted the blog submissions drafted by Laura Webb on the Shaker Village website and social media platforms.
Shaker artifacts housed in the Village’s Collections Facility.

Earlier this week, I interviewed the lovely folks above about different aspects of this grant project. In terms of what their favorite aspects were, there was a wide variety of responses! Not to toot my own horn, but Jacob, Becky, and Shelby all mentioned really enjoying reading this very blog series. But on a more important note, getting in-depth looks into the collection were valuable for folks, too!

  • We have so much incredible content and so many resources that are not currently available to the public. This project helps us to better fulfill our mission as an organization.” – Billy
  • My favorite aspect of the project has been the opportunity to take a deep dive into the collection and uncover the stories about many artifacts that I had heretofore not had the chance to research or look into.” – Jacob
  • I remember one day looking up an object that I had looked up many times before, and suddenly seeing so much more useful information. I was so pleased with how organized the data was and, of course, how much information I had access to once the object record was updated.” – Maggie
  • The most exciting part of this project has been to serve as a jumping-off point for further collections work. A number of new projects that we’ve started in 2021 are only possible because of the work already completed as part of the CARES grant.” – Becky

Not to be too self-indulgent, but I also asked the team what their favorite blog posts in this series were. The overwhelming winner was “A Benign Spit-Shine,” with four votes!

Object SP82.3.3; Past Perfect records: wooden colander of basswood, made at Hancock Village, MA; museum purchase, 1982. Mechanically cleaned, cleaned with saliva, treated with wax (1996).
  • It made me think of my mom giving me a ‘spit-shine’ before we went into Church on Sunday mornings, as we regularly engaged in pick-up football games with the others kids after Sunday school and before service!” – Jacob
  • You mean it’s not ok to lick the artifacts?”– Melissa

That article also got votes from Billy and Maggie. With two votes (including one from Shelby), the runner-up was “Out of the Blue,” the post about cyanotypes. (If the math isn’t adding up for you, that’s because Maggie had it tied with “Benign Spit-Shine.” Please don’t demand a recount!) An honorable mention goes to “Prying with a Purpose,” with valuable commentary:

  • I think it’s too easy to view research libraries and archives as adjunct features of museums, used only for visiting researchers and for generating the raw content that’s disseminated to visitors through exhibits and programming. It’s a good reminder for me, moving forward, to consider other ways to shed light on the ‘behind-the-scenes’ aspects of curatorial work and collections management so that it’s understandable and accessible to the visiting public.” – Becky
Past subject guides have been stored in this small card catalog.

The whole year of 2020 was challenging for…well, literally everyone in the world. In terms of this project, however, one challenge in particular ran as a common thread. A few months into this project, Aaron Genton, our Curator of Collections, left Pleasant Hill for a position in Montana! This meant that, until our new curator was hired in November, I worked in the archives more-or-less autonomously. In addition, our department was reorganized in the interim period. Here’s what some folks have to say about it:

  • During the course of this project I assumed additional responsibilities for the supervision of the Collections Department and the hiring of a new Curator of Collections.” – Billy
  • Coming to the project about a month before the grant funding ended, I was really mindful of the hard work and long hours that had already been put in by Laura and other staff. I really wanted to be mindful of being the ‘interloper,’ while at the same time bringing fresh eyes, enthusiasm, and new ideas to help get the project finished at the end of what has been a very difficult year.” – Becky

Another challenge was the sheer enormity of the task! (Do y’all remember how we eat an elephant?) One response mirrored my own thoughts:

  • “The biggest challenge has been reigning in my expectations! We have so much great information on the collection that I would love to be able to share with the public — but, to get to that point, it has been important to make sure we get the system set up properly and to feature the correct information. All of these things take time and care!”Jacob

In tackling these challenges, all of us learned a lot and gained many new skills. In particular, many of us learned a lot about PastPerfect, as well as about the information it currently holds!

  • I’ve learned a great deal about the PastPerfect online functions because of your knowledge and communication. I definitely want to learn more about its capabilities, but that was fun for me.” – Maggie
  • It gave me a great excuse to get in-depth with PastPerfect very early during my time at SVPH. Spending so much time in PastPerfect has given me a much better understanding of my department predecessors and has taught me a lot about the ways SVPH has collected, cataloged, and tracked its artifacts over the past 60+ years.”- Becky
  • I enjoyed learning more about the important people in the post-Shaker period who were instrumental in helping us get to where we are today. I know that there was a curated section of this information in the Pieces of Pleasant Hill exhibit, but getting the chance to take a more unfettered look at the ‘raw’ data has been something that I have enjoyed.” – Jacob

Finally, I asked my team where they hope to see this work go in the future, and how they hope to see this information used. This particular grant-funded project may have ended, but it’s only the beginning of our efforts to organize and digitize our collections content! Even while looking back at the progress we’ve made so far, all of us are still continuing to look forward.

  • This work must continue for SVPH. The digital content will be a critical mechanism for creating exhibitions and online research.” – Billy
  • I’m excited to get PastPerfect Online published and usable for the public and researchers. I would also like to annotate many of the entries with much more historical content and information.” – Jacob
  • Moving forward, the fun challenge will be how we interpret and curate this information to make it, not just accessible, but meaningful to the public.” – Maggie
  • I’m delighted that the work started under the NEH Cares grant will continue in the coming months and years as we update our records, research our collections, and make all of this information available through an online platform. Although nothing can ever replace a personal visit to SVPH, I hope our expanded digital resources can help us reach new audiences and forge new connections!” – Becky
  • I see so many different ways our collections can support our mission in a digital format. This project provided an avenue for to reach our guests in a time when fewer were visiting. I’d like to see us expand on the work you’ve completed to create curated digital experiences.” – Melissa

How about you, my lovely readers? What have you learned from this series? What was your favorite post? What are you most looking forward to about our upcoming online collections resource? Please keep in touch through our social media, or shoot me an email at – I’d love to hear from you!

Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill was awarded a CARES grant through The National Endowment for the Humanities in June 2020. Funding from this grant award supported two activities to enhance digital humanities initiatives at SVPH, including Laura Webb’s work to review our collection records and prepare them for publishing in a public digital database.

Ready For Its Close-Up

Laura Webb, Program Specialist

Happy New Year, y’all! Did you miss me? The NEH grant series took a hiatus last month as the Village@Work blog had a full schedule of holiday-themed posts – but now we’re back, bay-beeee! So, what have I been up to in the meantime?

As some of you may recall, November and December were primarily spent taking photographs of our larger exhibited objects in situ (that is, in their current positions, without moving anything around). My photographs attempted to capture as many planes of an item as possible – front, back, sides, top, and bottom – as well as:

  • Hardware;
  • Condition details;
  • Construction details;
  • Use details and mechanics;
  • Markings and inscriptions; and
  • Locations of physical accession numbers.

Sounds straightforward, right? Well…sometimes, not so much. Photographing objects in situ means that many of their planes are either inaccessible or nearly so. To capture as many sides as possible, I often had to position myself in creative ways. My favorite example of this is below, in which I found myself crouching in a hearth like some sort of fireplace goblin in order to get the entire back side of a large desk in frame.

Move over Santa I’ve got to borrow this fireplace. The resulting photograph is on the right (drafting table, Farm Deacon’s Shop).

To get detailed shots, I got up close and personal with many objects I have seen on a regular basis since they’ve been put on display. If you’ve ever participated in one of our Objects + Stories programs, you’ll know how much the practice of “close looking” can reveal about an artifact, and that was certainly true even now. I discovered many aspects of objects I had never noticed before! In addition, taking the time to appreciate the quintessential Shaker craftsmanship that went into making these pieces was a sheer pleasure.

In my last post, I discussed the importance of taking current and good-quality photographs of collections items. But why do I take so many photographs? My goal is to recreate the experience of looking at an item in-person as well as I can. This means getting detailed images! When you are able to browse these images in our database, hopefully you will be able to understand how an item was made and assembled, as well as how it was used and how it worked.

What can you learn from the photographs above? What do you notice? And what’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done to get a good photo? Let us know, and be sure to check back in a few weeks for my series finale!

2020 – A Year Like No Other

Melissa Donahoo, Development Coordinator

The staff and administration at Shaker Village entered 2020 with a high level of energy and excitement. 2019 had been a remarkable year at Shaker Village, and we put in place a great number of plans for 2020 that would further enhance the guest experience. But, “life is what happen to us while we are making other plans” (Allen Saunders; John Lennon).

As a non-profit cultural site, the mandated closure in the early weeks of the pandemic was difficult. But, it was within the Shaker journals that we found inspiration in this challenging time. The Shakers themselves were no strangers to adversity and had navigated through the Spanish Flu in 1918 as well Cholera outbreaks in 1820.

At different points in the history of Pleasant Hill, the Shakers in the community relied on healthcare provided by both Shakers, and non-Shakers. In this image, standing from left to right, are Dr. William Pennebaker, Francis Pennebaker (dentist) and a non-Shaker medical doctor. C. Late 19th Century.

Early on, our team committed to telling the story of the Kentucky Shakers through our digital media platforms. Bringing our humanities programming to you when you could not physically visit yourself, enabled us to act as a source of education, entertainment and an uplifting presence. As we reached out to you – our guests and supporters – to share this digital content, we received an outpouring of care and concern that meant so much to the staff who care for this powerful place every day.

2020 has turned out to truly be a year like no other, but despite the ongoing health emergency, Pleasant Hill remains and has been a peaceful retreat for our guests in an otherwise uncertain world. This has been possible because of you, your support, and your willingness to visit this summer and fall. Let’s take a look back at everything your support helped accomplish this year.

Preservation of The Historic Centre

When SVPH closed in March, the preservation staff was well-into a large project related to the 1817 East Family Dwelling.  A private donation from a generous donor enabled SVPH’s talented team of craftsmen to continue this work while the Village was closed to the public, focusing on the building’s windows and doors and replacing the wood shingle roof.

Preservation efforts in progress. July 2019.

Other notable preservation projects in 2020 included the completion of the 1833 Waterhouse and 1860 Bath House project, painting of the 1821 Ministry’s Workshop, installing a new roof on the 1809 Farm Deacon’s Shop, and cleaning and repointing of the masonry on the Farm Deacon’s shop and the 1811 Old Stone Shop. When you visit this winter, you’ll notice work has begun on the 1835 East Family Wash House. This building will be painted as soon as the winter weather breaks next spring.

Improvements to the Visitor Experience

During our closure, the Program Team, Marketing Team, Preservation Team, Farm Team, and Preserve Team produced digital content at a fast and furious pace. During this three-month time frame we posted six blog posts, over 20 interpretative videos, four photo slide shows, and many historical trivia posts. This work was made possible in part by a CARES grant through Kentucky Humanities. This type of work continued after our reopening as Program Specialist Laura Webb worked to prepare our collection records for online publication. She published nine blog posts featuring collections objects, photos and artifacts. Ms. Webb’s work was directly supported by a CARES grant through the National Endowment for the Humanities.

We also installed 20 new outdoor waystations thanks to the generosity of Community Trust Bank. These waystations provide our guests with information about the Shakers and Pleasant Hill as well as a myriad of topics related to the The Farm, The Preserve, and the natural landscape. They are positioned in key locations across the Village and add accessible interpretation of the Village to the guest experience.

Improving accessibility across the site is a long-term goal for us. In addition to the waystations, we installed an accessible path in the The Orchard, The Herb Garden, and The Native Garden as well as several picnic tables. We truly had no idea how big of an impact The Garden Project would have. This area became one of the most popular places in the Village this summer, much to the delight of our private donor.

The new accessible path that leads guests through the Apple Orchard.

We also continued our work to implement the new site-wide interpretative plan which is rolling out in stages across multiple years. In the first half of 2020, we installed 147 exhibition panels and 49 objects in six exhibits across four buildings. This is just the beginning of full, interactive exhibitions that are still to come!

The Farm

The Farm here at Shaker Village is a year-round operation that requires daily attention to our more than 100 animals. This year our “farmily” grew to include six lambs, six calves, 18 ducks and 36 new sheep (two different breeds!). We also expanded the farm footprint to 118 acres by adding a 68-acre tract of native grasses and added blackberries, flowers and green space near The Orchard.

One of the biggest challenges we faced at the Farm was food production. When we closed in March, our Farmers already had hundreds of plants growing in the greenhouse to support our farm-to-table dining experience. With the dining room closed, and later open at a reduced capacity, we were able to donate more of our produce to food banks and pay-it-forward restaurants. We also began a CSA model in the fall that we will continue and expand in 2021.

If you didn’t know, we also entered into a partnership with LGE and KU this year to give “baaaaack” to the earth. This innovative project established a flock of grazing sheep at the E.W. Brown Generating Station in Mercer County where their solar array is located. The sheep replace the need to mow with gas-powered lawnmowers and has been a huge success! Over the winter the sheep will be back at SVPH so we can care for the growing flock.

The flock of “lawn mowers” that care for the E.W. Brown Generating Station’s solar panel field.

The Preserve

The Nature Preserve is always popular during the summer and fall. This year was no exception as we saw record numbers of visitors hiking and riding on our 37-miles of multi-use trails. If you hiked on the Shawnee Run Trail or the West Lot/Shawnee Run connector trail, you may have noticed that we corrected some drainage issues, making the trails more guest-friendly and environmentally sound. This project was supported by gifts from the Tirbracken Green Foundation and the Fort Harrod Backcountry Horsemen.

The Preserve at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.

It turns out that it wasn’t just humans turning out in records numbers. This year, our naturalist tagged 200 Monarch butterflies during their migration – a sharp increase over last year’s population study. We also continued to monitor our avian population via mist netting efforts through our partnership with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.  Highlights from this year were the Nelson’s Sparrow, Pine Siskin and Purple Finch along with many of our regular breeding birds and usual migrants.

Protecting the natural landscape is always the focus at The Preserve. This year we conducted prescribed burns for over 300 acres of converted native prairie as part of our regenerative practices. We also continue to sample water in the Shawnee Run Creek for Kentucky River Watershed Watch and are seeing good results as far as water quality.

Looking Ahead to 2021

If we learned anything at Shaker Village in 2020, it was to be flexible, focus on what we could do to provide our guests with the best possible experience, provide support in the community where we could, and keep doing what we do on The Farm, in The Preserve and to sustain this site. 

We also learned that we are not alone – you’ve shown us that you care about this site as much as the staff does. At the time of this writing, over 900 individuals, families, companies and foundations have made a financial contribution to sustain our operations. An additional 1,075 households have purchased an Annual Pass in 2020 – revenue that also supports SVPH’s operations. Your support has helped tremendously, allowing us to reopen and remain a top destination. We cannot thank you enough.

2021 is likely to also be a year like no other. We’re going to take it month by month, but we can promise you that we remain committed to caring for this site, to serving our mission, and to providing you with an peaceful place to rest, relax and discover.

Today in Pleasant Hill History – December 6th

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

“This is a remarkable cold windy day.  This day one of the boys at the West Lot struck a friction match and put it in their straw rick and burnt it up it stood connected to the machine shop and would have burnt it up if the wind had not been favorable.  They had their thrashing turning to the machine for scrapping broom corn buzzsaws for slitting out broom handles, besides the machinery for running these things, were all in the machine house. At one time the blaze struck into the house at the door it then pass out we then set plank in the door to keep it out until we could smother the blaze.  The boys name is James Dunkin.”

– December 6, 1854, Journal of James Levi Ballance, April 1, 1854, to March 30, 1860

Despite these actions by the disaffected youth, broom production at Pleasant Hill continued for the better part of the next fifty years and remained an integral part of the community’s economy nearly to the very end of its existence!

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!