Barbara Ernst Prey: BORROWED LIGHT

Hancock Shaker Village

May 26 – November 11, 2019

To the Shakers, light was everything — fuel to the body, mind, and spirit. A veritable life force, the sun’s rays allowed crops to thrive, lent structure to the day, and provided a perceptible connection between the earthly world and realms beyond. The Shakers designed their built environment to let light in. At Hancock Shaker Village, sunlight dances in capricious ways, creating excitement and mystery in shifting beams, shadows, and pools.

This intangible yet dynamic essence is the subject of Borrowed Light, a new series of watercolors by painter Barbara Ernst Prey. Prey spent many days during the fall and winter of 2018-2019 immersed in the buildings, material culture, and landscape of the Village. She observed luminescence within the elemental austerity of her surroundings, sketching boxes, garments, tools, and domestic objects as angular refractions of light migrated slowly across interior and exterior scenes. An astonishing palette of color emerged under her acute painterly gaze: violet and emerald awash in the Laundry and Machine Shop; indigo and gold in the Round Stone Barn; slate and amber in the Sisters’ Dairy & Weave Shop.

The title of the exhibition, Borrowed Light, is drawn from the Shaker architectural technique of incorporating windows and skylights into interior walls. The result is both pragmatic and sublime — rays of light cut through dim interiors to yield illumination with an ethereal effect. At its essence, Borrowed Light is an exploration of spirit and the shared human desire to feel connected to the universe in a larger and more meaningful way. The exhibition lends new insight into the visual and haptic experience of sacred design, featuring objects and spaces that appear enlivened by a luminosity that can only be divine.

Barbara Ernst Prey is a distinguished painter with works in numerous public and private collections, including the National Gallery of Art, The White House, the Brooklyn Museum, the New York Historical Society, the Kennedy Space Center, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Her work has been commissioned by NASA and has toured internationally as part of the federal Art in Embassies Program. With roots in the Berkshires, Prey is a graduate of Williams College, where she is currently an adjunct faculty member. She received a master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School. In 2008, Prey was a presidential appointee to the National Council on the Arts, the advisory board to the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. She has had a lifelong fascination with the Shakers.

Borrowed Light was curated by Sarah Margolis-Pineo for Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The exhibition is supported by Herbert Allen, Duncan and Susan Brown, Paul Neely, Sheila Stone, and Balance Rock Investment Group.

Borrowed Light was accompanied by an exhibition catalogue

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