As a boy growing up in Ohio, I was aware of the Shakers, because they were still around, here and there. All I knew was that they got their name from the way they danced during worship. Later I discovered they made the coolest furniture ever, IMHO.
Now I learn -- thanks to Mr. Nordhoff -- that they are the original and most successful communists in the United States. They established their first commune in 1794, and their movement eventually grew to 58 communes. In a time when many utopian communities were founded on religious, philosophical, economic and capitalist principles, they did it better than any one else.
Like communism in the twentieth century, these communes sought to be paradise for workers. According to Nordhoff, who visited them and reported in this book published in 1875, they succeeded. At one Shaker community, they considered work to be a pleasure. They made it so by sending five workers to do what two hired men could do. They made up the loss in efficiency through living simply. Also, all these communes -- Shaker and otherwise -- treated women equally in work, governance, privileges and all areas of life. Nordhoff reports that their lives were noticeably easier than those of housewives in mainstream communities.
Unlike the "godless communism" I heard about while growing up in the 1950's, most of these communes had religion at the center of communal life. Nordhoff observes that those founded without a religious core were less successful.
I thank the Mechanics Institute Library for keeping this lovely old book in their collection and for fetching it from the basement when I asked for it.
Also, in case you are wondering why in the world I asked for it, it is research for my next novel, the one I am starting while sending my first one out to agents.
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, meaning the DeYoung Museum of Art and the Palace of the Legion of Honor, have given us superb exhibitions of the later work of William Turner over the summer. By the way SF also has the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Asian Art Museum, which are not included when you say, "The Fine arts Museums of San Francisco," even though they definitely have fine art in them. And then there is the Palace of Fine Arts which is not an art museum and has no art in it, fine or otherwise. Clear?
Anyhoo, the Legion still has its exhibit of English Works on Paper through the end of November, and it is astounding to see what the likes of Turner, Blake and many others could do with pencil, pastel, ink and water color. These were often studies for paintings to be done later, and they don't hold up as well, being on paper. But there are effects that in some instances surpass what the masters accomplish in paint.
The DeYoung's exhibit of Turner's later paintings, now closed, was a jaw dropping experience. Mike Leigh's film, Mr. Turner, starring Timothy Spall, was a great warm-up for this exhibit. It tells the story of the barber's son who surpasses his contemporaries and starts painting the light, years ahead of those French Impressionists we now so love. Perhaps we know him less because he refused to sell his work to the highest bidder, instead leaving it to the English people to be held in trust. The paintings were spectacular.
The exhibit closed at the end of September, and this sky appeared as if to bid it goodbye.