Shaker Museum creating $15M new home for collection
CHATHAM — The Shaker Museum is creating a $15 million permanent home for the 18,000 objects in a collection described as the world's most comprehensive holdings of Shaker objects and archives.
The museum has acquired a building at 5 Austerlitz St. in the heart of this Columbia County village. At various points in its history the property was a chocolate shop, auto dealer, knitting mill, hotel, furniture store, church and sanitorium offering a "vegetable cure" for cancer.
Work is due to start next year, with completion in 2023, according to an announcement from Lacy Schutz, director of the Shaker Museum. She said $6.3 million has so far been raised in the capital campaign to support the facility, including a $1.57 million grant from Empire State Development and the Regional Economic Development Council, and a "major gift" in an unspecified amount from Jack Shear. A Spencertown resident, Shear is a photographer who, after the 2015 death of partner, painter, sculptor and printmaker Ellsworth Kelly, donated the couple's collection of Shaker objects to the museum.
"During this current moment of social distancing, it is vital to remember that community — the bedrock of Shaker beliefs — is an integral part of the human condition," Schutz said in a statement. She said, "With today’s stark divisions, the Shaker legacy of equality and inclusion offers a roadmap for creating sustainable, meaningful lives through the cooperation afforded by community. In this context, this new museum takes on more urgency and relevance."
The museum's collections have been without a permanent home for more than a decade, since the its galleries closed in 2009. Its primary focus has been stewardship of Mount Lebanon Shaker Village, consisting of 11 Shaker buildings on 91 acres that the museum acquired in 2004. The community, in existence from 1787 to 1947, was considered the largest and most successful utopian communal society in America. At its peak in the mid-19th century, the community covered 6,000 acres and was home to more than 600 people.
"Like the objects themselves, the physical building will embody Shaker values of inclusion, innovation and equality to create a museum that both tells the Shaker story and is responsive to the needs of the community in Chatham, Columbia County and the surrounding Hudson Valley," Schutz's statement said. It said the finished facility will encompass almost 30,000 square feet over four floors. According to the museum, the new facility annually will draw 30,000 visitors, who will spend a projected $1.75 million locally each year. The expansion project is forecast to have a total
economic impact of $12.7 million and support more than 100 jobs in the Capital Region, according to an analysis commissioned by the museum.
The gut-renovation and redesign of the Austerlitz Street building will be overseen by New York City-based Selldorf Architects, a firm specializing in cultural facilities that oversaw the renovation and expansion of two buildings at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., for its 2014 reopening.
“We are committed to creating spaces and buildings of integrity, that are welcoming and bring people together in the spirit of inclusion and inquiry," Annabelle Selldorf, principal of Selldorf Architects, said in a statement. She said, "It is a pleasure to be collaborating with a client whose values are so closely aligned with our own. This is a powerful moment to reflect on the Shaker legacy and its enduring lessons for contemporary society."
The museum will continue to operate the Mount Lebanon facility and its campus in Old Chatham that is home to offices, collections, archives and a library. The Old Chatham property was once the farm John S. Williams Sr., who founded the museum in 1950, based on collecting he had done starting in the 1930s. Williams is credited with taking an anthropologist's approach to documenting the declining Shaker culture, amassing a collection that today is considered a prime resource for scholars and curators worldwide. After the museum took over the Mount Lebanon site, its official name was changed to Shaker Museum|Mount Lebanon.
At present, the administrative campus is open by appointment only. The Mount Lebanon site is open daily year-round for self-guided tours and use of the pasture and hiking trails. Visit shakerml.org for information.