A Sign Post

An array of five color photographic images of text signs affixed to different building exteriors

Really, this is a post about signs. (I couldn’t resist the pun.)

There are physical signs, like the new building signs now proudly displayed on many of the Museum’s buildings. Earlier this week I spent a lovely evening, before twilight, walking the grounds and taking these images, thinking about the contrast between the bright black-and-white modern signs and their supports, the variegated painted and bare wood clapboards and planks put in place to make a building decades and decades ago.

There are signs of wear. We can see these in the clapboards and planks. Many would read in these signs the lack of care. I read these signs the patina of age, the surface wear of a sturdy body. Some of these buildings have withstood two centuries’ worth of storm and sun, of inhabitancy of humans who painted, pinned, poked, and perambulated their interiors and exteriors, leaving traces we today study.

The Shakers called the Great Stone Dwelling the “stone house.” But dwelling works so well to remind us of the structure’s resistance to ruin. It seems to refuse to yield to the elements. It most certainly dwells.

We can—and do—patch and paint and preserve these buildings. The spectacular Brethren’s East Shop shows what can be done. That’s what makes working at Enfield Shaker Museum so satisfying. We tell stories of the Enfield Shakers who constructed these buildings to structure their lives dedicated to their faith. But we also tell the stories of how we know the Shakers of Enfield. The built environment and the material culture they left tells us just as much as documents do. The signs of the Shakers’ lives are everywhere here–in the design and in the wear and the tear of the buildings–and not only in books. All we have to do is look around and learn to understand.

Our ad hoc Building Sign Committee (Dick Dabrowski, Carolyn Smith, Michael O’Connor, Kyle Sandler, and Tim Baker) deserve our thanks for their hard work in researching, designing, and securing the signs in place. I hope you’ll join me in congratulating them for a job well done!

Stay safe!

Shirley Wajda, Interim Executive Director