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Simple Gifts: A Memoir of a Shaker Village

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In Simple Gifts, June Sprigg tells the story of one of America's last Shaker communities - Canterbury Shaker Village, in Canterbury, New Hampshire - during its twilight years, and of its seven remarkable "survivor" women, who were among the last representatives of our longest-lived and best-known communal utopian society. As a college student Sprigg spent a summer among them, and here she gracefully interweaves the narrative of their lives with the broader history of Shakers in America as she shows us how her ...
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Overview

In Simple Gifts, June Sprigg tells the story of one of America's last Shaker communities - Canterbury Shaker Village, in Canterbury, New Hampshire - during its twilight years, and of its seven remarkable "survivor" women, who were among the last representatives of our longest-lived and best-known communal utopian society. As a college student Sprigg spent a summer among them, and here she gracefully interweaves the narrative of their lives with the broader history of Shakers in America as she shows us how her experiences there affected her own life and opened the door to her creativity.
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Editorial Reviews

Carol Zaleski
...an affectionate and ingenuous memoir of three summers spent 25 years ago with the seven remaining sisters of Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire. -- New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Sprigg, who has published several books (By Shaker Hands) about the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, or Shakers, spent three summers in the early 1970s living and working as a tour guide at the Shaker village of Canterbury, N.H. Although she never completely embraced the Shaker dogma, as a college student she was profoundly influenced by the months she spent with the seven aged Shaker women who were the only surviving inhabitants of the village. In this loving recreation of Shaker life, the author provides a history of the religion as well as interesting biographical sketches of the residents. Despite a strict belief in celibacy that was responsible for the dwindling number of adherents, Sprigg describes Lillian, Bertha and Gertrude, the three elders with whom she had the closest contact, as having led lives that included nurturing children who had been brought to their settlements. During the summers the author came to admire and respect their good-humored dedication to a life of prayer, hard work and nonviolence. And readers will feel deep poignancy in this engaging book when Sprigg writes, "The Shakers I knew best are all gone now." (June)
Library Journal
Sprigg, the author of numerous books about the Shakers, recounts her first summer with the Shakers of Canterbury, NH. In 1972, the 19-year-old Sprigg spent several months there as a tour guide, learning their personal and community history. At the time, only six elderly women remained. Sprigg writes with deep insight and affection about each of these women, encapsulating their unique personalities and daily life. In fact, the personality sketches constitute the strength of her story. Sprigg goes on to discuss the controversy between Canterbury and the other remaining Shaker community at Sabbathday Lake, ME. Sabbathday Lake was recently the subject of Suzanne Skees's God Among the Shakers (LJ 4/1/98), and libraries interested in one of these books will want to get both. Sprigg includes a good, basic bibliography. Recommended for public and academic libraries.--C. Robert Nixon, Free Lance, Lafayette, IN
Booknews
Sprigg, a freelance writer and formerly a curator at the Hancock Shaker Village (Pittsfield, MA), sketches the history of this utopian communal society (aka: the United Society of Believers) prefacing her interviews with seven elderly survivors of one of America's last Shaker communities: Canterbury Shaker Village, (Canterbury, NH), already in crisis in 1972. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Kirkus Reviews
A seasoned curator and historian of Shakeriana (By Shaker Hands, 1975) here fondly remembers her summerlong stay, 26 years ago, at Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire, then a living religious community. In the summer of 1972, Sprigg worked as a tour guide for visitors to the Canterbury Shakers. Her job brought her far more than an income. For it also provided her with the opportunity to befriend the seven elderly women who were then sustaining a two-centuries-old Shaker community even as it dwindled toward an end. Sweetly elegiac at its best, the book, enlivened by the author's eloquent line drawings, evokes the personalities of these community stalwarts. There is Bertha Lindsay, the townþs eldress; Lillian Phelps, who forms its spiritual center; Gertrude Soule, a spunky commentator on all and sundry, whose health reports were indulgently dubbed "organ recitals"; the dowdy Ethel Hudson, who had settled into early retirement (a "loaf Believer"); elegant Alice Howland; the high-spirited Miriam Wall; and ominously Ethan Fromeþishþbut giftedly green-thumbedþMildred Wells, who hovered on the small societyþs margins. Much, though not all, seems edenic among the Shakers, according to Spriggþs observations. Citing an exception, she recounts the painful rift between Canterbury and Sabbathday Lake (for a look at the latter, see Suzanne Skees, God Among the Shakers, p. 255), a sibling community in Maine, over conflicting visions of the Shaker future, and also notes the tensions felt sometimes among Canterbury's own members. Still, the memories dearest to the author—of ladies shifting gently in their front-porch rocking chairs or of theirlong-untouched, pine-scented attics—donþt always woo a reader's interest. The odd imbalance befalling the frugal Shakers, who have spent and multiplied little, of abundant assets husbanded by a shrinking constituency of members (14, in 1972), is mirrored here in Spriggþs surfeit of pages bent on describing a world-in-miniature. A chatty memorial with too much verbiage. (9 illustrations)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679455042
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/19/1998
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 227
  • Product dimensions: 6.25 (w) x 8.78 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Meet the Author

June Sprigg is a graduate of Lafayette College and the Winterthur Program in Early American Culture. From 1977 to 1982 and 1986 to 1994 she was Curator of Collections at the Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. She has guest-curated major exhibitions of Shaker design at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and the Sezon Museum of Art in Tokyo. She is a freelance writer and adjunct instructor of history at Berkshire Community College. Her many publications include By Shaker Hands (1975), Domestick Beings (1984), Inner Light: The Shaker Legacy (1985), and Shaker Built (1994). She lives in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations vii
Acknowledgments ix
INTRODUCTION "I Was a Teenage Shaker" 3
CHAPTER 1 Gus and Alice 12
CHAPTER 2 Memorial Day 28
CHAPTER 3 Lillian, Bertha, and Eldress Gertrude 57
CHAPTER 4 June 94
CHAPTER 5 Alice and Ethel 125
CHAPTER 6 July 148
CHAPTER 7 Miriam and Mildred 172
CHAPTER 8 August 190
AFTERWORD Simple Gifts 211
Bibliography 215
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