These are not works of art; they are representatives of a life intended to be lived in faith that the universe had a purpose and that people had a place in it, an art of living. Seeing the objects in a museum isolates them from their larger context, which is a pity, but there's no other way for most of us to access their accomplishment. In a letter, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote "Even for our grandparents, a 'house,' a 'well,' a familiar tower, their very clothes, their coat, was infinitely more, infinitely more intimate; almost everything was a vessel in which they found what was human and added to the supply of what was human."

The Shaker community, once widespread in the Northeast, is now reduced to a few members in one of their smaller communities in Maine. Their message, though, is perhaps more important now than it has been for many years. We can't access it through this show, but we can see what it might have been, and might be, about.

Ken Greenleaf can be reached atken.greenleaf@gmail.com.

"GATHER UP THE PIECES: THE ANDREWS SHAKER COLLECTION" | at the Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Square, Portland | through February 5, 2012 | 207.775.6148 | portlandmuseum.org

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