The Believers

Billy Rankin, Vice President of Public Programming and Marketing

Telling the Story

Among the list of 34 projects that has been curated for Shaker Village’s Long-Range Plan, you will find several projects that are not new ideas, but have actually been underway for some time. Historic preservation, for example, is a never-ending project at Kentucky’s largest National Historic Landmark. So too is the implementation of interpretation to share the history of this remarkable site with our guests.

Since 2017, Shaker Village has been implementing components of a “new” interpretive model. We understand that our guests are not all identical, and that people learn and interact in many different ways. With this in mind, we interpret the natural and cultural history of Pleasant Hill through a variety of methods, including: guided tours, signs, exhibits, workshops, interactive apps, books, web pages, events and hands-on learning experiences.

Among our different methods, educational exhibits provide a solid interpretive foundation for the greatest number of visitors to the Village.

Exhibits allow guests to learn at their own pace, and to pursue topics that are of the greatest personal interest. Exhibits connect visitors to the material culture of the Shakers. Exhibits immerse guests in the time, the place and the story of Pleasant Hill.

You can currently explore exhibits in 12 different historic buildings throughout the Village, and one of these spaces is about to go through a massive transformation.

The Spiritual Center

In 2018, thanks to funding provided by the Eli Lilly Endowment, preservation of the 1820 Meeting House was completed. This project, along with the simultaneous preservation of the 1824 Centre Family Dwelling, marked the largest investment in historic preservation at Pleasant Hill since the original restoration in the 1960s and 1970s.

The work not only protected these structures, but also created opportunity for the future installation of high-quality, educational exhibitions in both buildings. Lighting systems, climate control and UV protection were all new features that expanded the potential for interpretive storytelling through compelling exhibits.

Since 2018 our team has completed new exhibits in several buildings, added outdoor interpretive signs, and launched the Shaker Village App, but had not, until recently, secured funding to complete exhibitions in the 1820 Meeting House. Fortunately, the Eli Lilly Endowment once again partnered with Shaker Village to protect and share the “spiritual center” of the community. In late 2022 a grant of $275,000 was awarded for The Believers, a permanent exhibit that will explore the Shakers’ faith, and how they expressed that faith in their music, worship and everyday lives.

Exhibit Design

The Believers will inhabit eight rooms on the second floor of the Meeting House. The six largest rooms will house exhibits on the Origins of the Shaker Faith, Theology, Worship, Music, the Era of Manifestations and Construction of the Meeting House. Two smaller rooms will be “reflection stations,” each having prompts for the consideration of guests, with the opportunity to respond and interact with the space in interesting ways.

At the core of Shaker Village’s interpretive plan is a key question. The Pleasant Hill Shakers’ beliefs influenced their actions and defined their lives. How do your beliefs define you? By sharing the story of the Shakers, we hope that our guests will reflect on their own beliefs, and how beliefs, manifested in religion, philosophy or morality, shape the world around us.

To advance this goal, The Believers has been designed as a space of inspiration and contemplation. Art, music and dance are key components. Sculptural elements help to drive the experience just as much as historic content. We want this exhibit to be emotive. We want visitors to feel something.

The Believers will open in late September (keep following our weekly emails for your invitation.) After it has opened, permanent exhibitions will still be needed for the 1824 Centre Family Dwelling, 1809 Farm Deacon’s Shop, 1817 Cooper’s Shop and 1835 East Family Wash House. Until then, seasonal and temporary exhibits will fill those spaces while fundraising continues toward the master plan. We hope you will join us for each new addition along the way, as we continue to explore the history of the Shakers and Pleasant Hill!

Follow Our Progress

As projects develop, you can expect to hear more about the progress on social media, through emails and on the Shaker Village blog. We hope you follow along!

If you have questions about master site planning at Shaker Village, or if you would like to support our efforts, please reach out to our Vice President of Public Programming & Marketing, Billy Rankin at or 859.734.1574.

This is the ninth article in an ongoing series outlining long-range planning at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. New to the series? You can visit our previous articles here:

If You Build It…

Billy Rankin, VP of Public Programming and Marketing

This is the fifth part of our behind-the-scenes look at the development of Local Economies, Global Impacts, a new exhibition that will open this fall at Shaker Village.

In previous posts we introduced three main goals that the team at Shaker Village keep in mind when developing any new exhibit:

  1. Tell a Meaningful Story
  2. Connect with Different Audiences
  3. Be Relevant

Today we’re going to get our hands dirty, as we enter the fabrication phase of this exhibit!

Floor plans like this provide a quick touchpoint to cross reference the graphics, artifacts and built environment of an exhibit space.
A Little Help from Our Friends

Over the last several months the Shaker Village team has been researching and reviewing content, examining artifacts and working on the design of Local Economies, Global Impacts. This project was not undertaken alone. We’ve partnered with outside scholars and a nationally-recognized exhibit design firm. We’ve funded the project through private donations and a matching grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services.

It’s hokey, I know, but it really does take a village.

We’re now entering the all-important fabrication phase, where each component of the exhibition will be constructed and fit together. Strategic partnerships will be as important as ever.

Much like a major home interior renovation, constructing a museum exhibit takes special skillsets that not everyone will have. At Shaker Village however, we are fortunate to have skilled carpenters, like Terry Cowart, who can produce the cases, platforms and frames called for in our exhibit designs.

Team members from Shaker Village on a visit to the exhibit fabrication shop of Solid Light, in Louisville.

There are also many components in this exhibit’s design that our carpentry team would not be able to tackle. Printed graphics, metal work, interactive displays and large models are a few examples of items that we will outsource to professional exhibit fabricators. In Kentucky, we happen to be home to one of the best exhibit fabrication firms in the country, Solid Light. Items that will be too much for our team to bite off will be produced offsite and installed in tandem with the portions of the exhibition built in-house.

All About the Details

Have you ever heard the saying, measure twice, cut once? When you work on an exhibit design produced by one firm that will be built by two different teams working in two different locations, you measure at least half a dozen times before you can sleep at night!

Curator Becky Soules measures artifacts to ensure case designs will provide adequate space for display.

Not only do the different components need to fit together, but the location of heating vents and electrical outlets, and the swing direction of every door must be accounted for in the final product.

For the past two weeks, and for the next two weeks, our teams have been meeting to review details, compare notes, and spend some time together in each of the spaces where exhibits are to be installed. Open communication and clear guidance are keys to making sure the pieces fit together when they are finally placed in the 1845 East Family Brethren’s Shop and 1855 East Family Sisters’ Shop.

Case “schedules” are provided as a reference for fabricators, ensuring each team member has the correct number and dimensions of “typical” design elements.
Making Sawdust
Lumber orders for “typical” elements are arriving and being pre-cut for use in the exhibit.

Some details of “atypical” elements in the exhibit are still being massaged out, but construction can begin in earnest on many of the “typical” elements. These include artifact stands and platforms.

Materials that can be ordered are on the way or already onsite. We all love the process and understand the importance of each step along the way. However, in the words of Terry Cowart: “It feels good to finally start making some sawdust on this project.”

Next Month: We’ll continue our journey through the fabrication of Local Economies, Global Impacts.

Local Economies, Global Impacts is funded in part through a Museums for America matching grant, administered by the Institute for Museum and Library Services.