Recruiting for Utopia: Print and the Imagination Opens Next Month at Fruitlands Museum

  • HARVARD, Massachusetts
  • /
  • August 06, 2020

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After design by Charles Fitch & Apollos Hale, Detail, A Chronological Chart of the Visions of Daniel & John, 1842, hand-tinted lithograph on cloth, 55 ¾ x 39 ½ inches, J.V. Himes, Boston.
Fruitlands Museum collection.

Boston & Harvard, MA – Shana Dumont Garr and Fruitlands Museum have announced their newest exhibition, Recruiting for Utopia: Print and the Imagination, opening to the public September 5, 2020 and running through March 2021. Recruiting for Utopia considers the influence of printed matter on Utopian thought in 1840s New England and encompasses both historical and contemporary sections.

“Recruiting for Utopia is about how and why people share ideas that feel urgent and of the utmost importance in their time,” notes organizing curator, Shana Dumont Garr. “Today, in a relatively secular society, we might consider climate change to be comparable to the Biblical apocalypse that loomed in the fears of many nineteenth-century New Englanders. The exhibition focuses on the power of design to share a particular ethos and influence others.”

Radical and alternative ideas were among the first to be distributed via the growing industry of print facilitated by new technology in the early 19th century. Inspired by the Millerite banners in the Fruitlands Museum collection, the focus of the historical portion of the exhibition illuminates the use of and message it shared, specifically the imminent, apocalyptic end of the world. Banners hung on tents and pamphlets shared at meetings were an important part of the Millerite message, with the group effectively sharing their message through print in the United States.

Jonathan Cummings, Prophetic Chart, 1852, Lithograph on cloth, Courtesy of a Private Collection, 65 x 40 inches.
Private Collection

In addition to Millerite ephemera, subject matter from the Shakers and Transcendentalists are included in the exhibition. New England has always served as an incubator for alternative ways of society and Recruiting for Utopia incorporates wider themes, including early female spiritual and lay leaders in the United States whose influence we can trace with early testimonies, biographies, and even an anonymously published narrative. At a time when females having influence outside of the domestic sphere was rare, figures including Mother Ann Lee (1736-1784) and Jemima Wilkinson (1752-1819) provide inspiring examples of early leading female leaders.   

Accompanying the historical materials show, the contemporary section showcases the priorities of activism and community building still prevalent in New England today. Contemporary publications include the print of an Auction Block Memorial by Steve Locke, a Repatriation Comic by Sonya Atalay, Jen Shannon, and John G. Swagger, and a poster by Demian Dineyazhi. These materials will appear throughout the museum, including historical spaces. This part of the exhibition is co-curated by art historian Paige Johnston.

In addition, site-specific artwork by artist-in-residence Jane Marsching complements the significance of print both historically and now while referring directly to history reflected in Fruitlands Museum’s permanent collection. Marsching creates large-scale banners with ink she made from plant materials foraged from the Fruitlands forest and printed on Tyvek, a collaborative process executed on the museum grounds. The banners feature quotes from authors in the Museum’s Transcendentalist archives as well as utopian thinkers from the mid-nineteenth century and today. These banners hang in trees through the landscape and connect the cultural landmarks of the Museum with its trail system.

Artist-in-Residence Maria Molteni creates a performance video within the museum’s 1790s Shaker Office. Developed in coordination with artists Allison Halter and Gabe C. Elder, the film incorporates the imagery of Shaker gift drawings or sacred sheets, spiritualism, and nature.

In conjunction with Recruiting for Utopia, concurrent and related exhibitions are also on display at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, also a Trustees reservation located in Lincoln, and the Fitchburg Art Museum.

Visionary New England
deCordova Museum and Sculpture Park | Lincoln, MA | October 8, 2020 – March 14, 2021

Visionary, mystical, and utopian practices are crucial to New England’s culture, history, and character. From the experimental agrarian communities founded in the 1840s, such as Brook Farm and Fruitlands, to the intersections of spiritualism and experimental psychology at the turn of the 20th century, New England has long developed alternative ways of nurturing community, personal growth, and societal reform. Related artists and writers frequently united their intimate connection to nature with a search for access to alternate dimensions or higher powers.  

After Spiritualism: Loss and Transcendence in Contemporary Art
Fitchburg Art Museum | Fitchburg, MA | Through September 6, 2020

The group exhibition offers an occasion to reflect on personal and shared losses through varied contemporary art practices. The works on view focus on trauma and mourning and is inspired by Spiritualism’s aims to connect the living with the dead for comfort, guidance, and enlightenment. 

About Fruitlands Museum

Fruitlands Museum, a property of the Trustees since 2016, is a historic, natural, and cultural destination in Harvard, MA. Founded in 1914 by author and preservationist Clara Endicott Sears, the Museum takes its name from an experimental utopian community that existed on this site in 1843 and was led by Transcendentalists Bronson Alcott and Charles Lane. Fruitlands is dedicated to New England history, art, and nature, and its collections include: The Fruitlands Farmhouse, The Shaker Gallery, The Native American Gallery, and The Art Gallery. It is located on 210 acres of land with panoramic views of the Nashua River Valley, including 2.5 miles of meadows and woodland recreational trails. www.thetrustees.org/fruitlands. 

About The Trustees
Founded in the city of Boston by landscape architect and open space visionary Charles Eliot in 1891, the Trustees is the nation’s first and the Commonwealth’s largest preservation and conservation non-profit. For more than 125 years, we have worked to preserve and protect dynamic natural and cultural sites – from beaches and community gardens to farms, historic homesteads, designed landscapes, and hiking trails – for public use and enjoyment. Today we are working to engage a larger constituency of Massachusetts residents, members, visitors, and public and private partners in our work to help protect our beloved and fragile natural, ecological, cultural, and coastal sites for current and future generations.

To learn more, visit www.thetrustees.org

Trustees of Reservations | Fruitlands Museum
http://thetrustees.org
About Trustees of Reservations | Fruitlands Museum

Fruitlands Museum, a property of the Trustees since 2016, is a historic, natural, and cultural destination in Harvard, MA. Founded in 1914 by author and preservationist Clara Endicott Sears, the Museum takes its name from an experimental utopian community that existed on this site in 1843 and was led by Transcendentalists Bronson Alcott and Charles Lane. Fruitlands is dedicated to New England history, art, and nature, and its collections include: The Fruitlands Farmhouse, The Shaker Gallery, The Native American Gallery, and The Art Gallery. It is located on 210 acres of land with panoramic views of the Nashua River Valley, including 2.5 miles of meadows and woodland recreational trails.


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