Today we took Christian Becksvoort to the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill to see some of the buildings and – we hoped – some of the furniture. For more than a year, the meeting house and Centre Family Dwelling have been under construction. And the majority of the village’s furniture collection has been in storage.
Recently we heard they were opening the Centre Family Dwelling for tours and we drove to the central Kentucky village to see whatever we could.
After a visit to the newly restored meeting house and a substantial Kentucky lunch, we arrived for a tour of the Centre Family Dwelling. Thanks to the bad weather (snow, spitty snow and rain) the only people on the tour were Chris, Megan Fitzpatrick, two other women and me.
When we walked in, it was like seeing the building when it was new in 1834. You could smell the fresh plaster and paint. The floors were bare and unfinished. The rooms were empty. And it was just us and 21,000 square feet of building.
The $5.1 million restoration added geothermal HVAC to the building, new lighting (sorry, but I’m not a fan of it) and fresh paint and repairs.
I thought I’d be disappointed to see the building without all the furniture. I’ve visited Pleasant Hill about 20 times since 1993, and I think of many of the rooms and furniture pieces there as familiar friends. But the empty building was a bit of a revelation. And you won’t be able to see it like this for long.
Starting later this month, you’ll be able to tour the building without a guide. And there won’t be exhibits or objects displayed in the building until November 2019 (or later). So if you want to see the building in its purest form, now is the time.
When Megan Fitzpatrick posted the frontispiece of Christian Becksvoort’s latest book, Shaker Inspiration, on Instagram a few months back, I knew I would be placing an order. Not only have I admired Becksvoort’s work for decades; the frontispiece was utterly lovely, promising yet another beautiful and informative book from Lost Art Press.
What I did not expect was a book that offers as much to the professional or would-be professional woodworker as to the ardent Shaker furniture fan. In addition to a sizable section devoted to Shaker furniture, with measured drawings of Becksvoort’s own designs and reproduction pieces along with a portfolio of drool-worthy classics, the eminently readable book encompasses wood technology (informed by the author’s academic background in forestry), no-nonsense discussion of training possibilities, tips and techniques (several of them new to me) and invaluable advice on what’s involved in setting up a business and running it successfully.
Those who have read my book Making Things Work will be aware of the importance I attach to being honest about the sometimes-brutal realities of basing your livelihood on furniture making. Ever since I read Becksvoort’s no-holds-barred reply in Fine Woodworking to a reader’s letter asking how to make a living as a furniture maker, I have wanted to shake his hand.
After weeks of looking forward to that handshake, I relinquished the opportunity to meet Mr. Becksvoort at yesterday’s Lost Art Press event due to the forecast for several inches of snow combined intermittently with the dreaded “wintry mix.” But I’m looking forward to seeing him in April at Fine Woodworking Live.