I've been fascinated by the Shakers lately. I realized last year that as much as I've enjoyed visiting Pleasant Hill Shaker Village (quite near Centre College, where I went), I knew very little about the people themselves. My gently snoozing religion co-major reared its head, and I read four books on the Shakers, both historic background and more recent writings on the Shakers today. There are a few left in Maine, though all the Kentucky and Ohio settlements closed early last century.
Since I was heading to Cincinnati for a dance weekend, I decided to stop and see a couple more of the villages I hadn't known about before my reading binge. South Union is a much smaller village than Pleasant Hill, located near Bowling Green, KY, but it was a wonderful stop. They have a great museum, knowledgeable staff, and a setting that still sits right on a small highway, giving visitors a feel for how the villages were originally located. Pleasant Hill is much more contemplative and restful with the highway now bypassed around it, but visitors lose the feel of the engagement with the passing world that the Shakers depended on for their livelihood.
I spent two nights at Pleasant Hill, recovering from a busy couple of months. Mostly I hiked the trails (the wildflowers were GORGEOUS), played my banjo, took the tour (now that I'd done all the reading), and had a picnic on a rock in the middle of the creek, but I did manage just a couple of watercolors. Above is one of my favorite buildings, and the top painting was the view from my window. Pleasant Hill is apparently the only village where visitors can stay in the beautiful old houses that the Shakers built.
I also got to White Water, just outside of Cincinnati in the Miami Whitewater park. It's only just beginning to be restored, and there are three clumps of buildings plus a graveyard. The big dwelling is boarded up and whitewashed, but the upside is that it's completely deserted. I loved being able to sit and ponder without anyone else around. I read every tombstone in the cemetery and spent time with each of the buildings. I wish I'd had longer and been able to sketch there, but I had to get back for dinner with friends and some early waltzing. A good choice, overall. Hopefully I'll get back again with more time at a later date.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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