A Chair Fit For an Angel

Hello again, Arthur Jaffe here.
One of my favorite things about the Jaffe Center for Book Arts is its diversity of ideas. Our staff often comes up with program ideas that have nothing at all to do with the book arts, at least at the surface, and there are times when I think the place would be better named the Jaffe Center for Creativity. This is certainly the case with two programs coming up later this month with members of The Boston Camerata. I think a lot of you will think you’ve never heard of The Boston Camerata, but if you listen to Public Radio, you’ve heard their music. They are one of the leading ensembles researching, recording, and performing early music today, and I love the way The Boston Camerata makes early music come alive for contemporary audiences.

JCBA Director John Cutrone will tell you more about this program being held on Wednesday evening, January 21, 2015 at 7 PM at FAU’s University Theatre.

Arthur’s right: JCBA is about more than book arts.

My view? Our art is informed by our experiences, and the book arts are no different. I have always felt it was important to bring many varied experiences to JCBA to inspire creative ideas, and I am particularly excited about this next program.

It’s a tough one to explain. We’ve titled the program “A Chair Fit For an Angel,” which is the name of the film that will be screened as the central part of the program. The film itself is about creativity, but filtered through the experiences of the Shakers, America’s most successful utopian society. At its height in the mid 19th century, there were tens of thousands of Shakers living in communities throughout New England, New York, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and even a short-lived community in Florida. Today there is just one active Shaker community: The Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community at New Gloucester, Maine.

What Arthur says about The Boston Camerata, how you may not think you know them but you probably do, most likely rings true about the Shakers, too. You may not think you have much connection or debt to them, but the Shakers have had a big impact on American life. They invented things we use even today: the flat broom, for instance, and the washing machine. What they are best known for, however, is their impeccably made furniture and their clean, crisp sense of design. Shaker furniture made in the 18th and 19th centuries has an undeniably modern aesthetic. And so if you appreciate modern design, you owe a debt to the Shakers. They were some of the first people practicing this clean aesthetic.

My connection with the Sabbathday Lake Shakers runs long and deep. I had the privilege of working with Brother Arnold Hadd at the Community when I was in grad school. I spent two summers there working at the press in their old dairy cellar, printing alongside Brother Arnold and making books. It was one of the most important learning experiences of my life. The Shakers welcomed me into their home and into their lives and I will never forget their kindness. But they have a long history of welcoming people from “the world,” as they call it, and I got to meet many wonderful people while I was there. Two of those people were Anne Azéma and Joel Cohen of The Boston Camerata. The Camerata had recently released an album of Shaker spirituals that they had researched and recorded at the Community’s 1784 Meeting House. It happened to be their biggest-selling album, and it topped the Billboard Classical Charts soon after its release in 1994.

Most recently, Anne and Joel have been working with Finnish choreographer Tero Saarinen on a series of performances throughout Europe featuring Saarinen’s company dancing to Shaker spirituals sung live by The Boston Camerata in a production called “Borrowed Light.” It is a production informed by Shaker aesthetics––the attempt of a group of people to carry the Shaker aesthetic legacy forward. As I do, and as many of us do. Whether we realize it or not.

In the film, you’ll meet Anne and Joel and Brother Arnold, as well as others who discuss the Shaker influence on art and design. You’ll see the Tero Saarinen company in action. We chose to hold this event at FAU’s University Theatre because it’s a beautiful theater and it has a full size screen so you’ll experience the full beauty of this film, which has been called “a feast for the eyes.” Anne and Joel will also perform Shaker spirituals live on stage, and lead a discussion about the Shakers and their music.

This JCBA event at the 500-seat University Theatre is free for FAU students, faculty, and staff with current Owl Card. General public admission is $20 at the door, but you can purchase advance tickets for $18 by contacting Eric Bush at ebush3@fau.edu or phoning him at (561) 297-4189.

The next evening, Thursday January 22, will find Anne Azéma and Joel Cohen performing and lecturing in the more intimate space of JCBA’s Book Arts Gallery. The program is called “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” and it is about the courtly love poetry and song of medieval France. Full details on that program are at our website.