Near Harrodsburg, Kentucky there is a place that is so special and so wonderful you don't want to miss it. It is the largest of the Shaker Villages and is called Pleasant Hill. It also is an inn and a restaurant where you can sleep in a room in a Shaker building and eat simple and well prepared dishes in the Shaker tradition. That's exactly what I did a couple of weeks ago. I stayed and photographed late the afternoon I arrived, ate dinner there, then got up early the next morning, photographed, then had breakfast and headed on my way back home.
I've been to this incredible place many times over the years and first photographed there in black and white with a view camera in the early 90's. But my relationship with the Shakers goes back much farther than that. I was a student at Darrow School in New Lebanon, NY for my 4 years of high school in the 60's. Darrow is a boarding school on the site of the first Shaker Village in the US. I lived in Shaker buildings and played sports on fields that had been farmed by the Shakers. On Wednesday afternoons I practiced "Hands to Work and Hearts to God" as the student body maintained the school's grounds and buildings. I believe much of my aesthetic was formed there during those years.
Photographing at Pleasant Hill for me has the feeling of being at a retreat or a respite from the frenetic, commercial and hassled life outside the village. Being at any Shaker site feeds my soul and brings me peace. Situated in thousands of acres of rolling farmland, the Village is true to its Shaker origin.
Shaker building interiors are just as special and pure. As the Shakers did not believe in procreation, they always kept the sexes separated so common rooms had to have two stairs and entrances. This led to some unique and beautiful symmetries.
But perhaps the crowning glory of this Village is the spiral staircases in the main building that now houses the dining room.
These two staircases that run up to the third floor are justifiably famous. They exist as a carpenter's tour de force of simplicity, purity, symmetry and design.
Should you wish to go it's best to make a reservation: Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill. It is best to stay at the inn.