In the heyday of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing — better known as the Shakers — there were people sarcastically dubbed Winter Shakers. These poor souls joined Shaker communities as cold weather set in only to “lose faith” in the spring, when the need for decent shelter, warm clothing and hearty meals was less compelling.

This bitter winter of 2015, Shakers are attracting visitors again. “The Shakers: From Mount Lebanon to the World,” the Farnsworth Art Museum’s major exhibition of last summer, has been extended to March 8 in response to popular demand. And the museum has teamed up with Everyman Repertory Theatre to produce Arlene Hutton’s play “As it is in Heaven,” opening Friday night, Feb. 20, for a two-weekend run at the Rockport Opera House.

The Farnsworth show is primarily drawn from the collection of the Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon in New Lebanon, N.Y. But it also includes a number of items from Maine’s Community at Sabbathday Lake in New Gloucester, home to the only three Shakers left in this world. The youngest of them, Brother Arnold Hadd, has come to the Midcoast several times to do presentations in conjunction with the exhibition. He will attend the Friday, Feb. 27, performance of “As it is in Heaven” and converse with Farnsworth Chief Curator Michael K. Komanecky afterwards. The exhibition’s catalog, written by Komanecky and Stephen J. Stein, has been published as a hardcover book and is available on

Response to "The Shakers" has been good: excluding last season, whose “Wizard of Oz” show was a door-buster, attendance for October through January was higher than in the two previous years. It is an unusual show for the art museum, comprising historical artifacts and Shaker-made objects. But there was a bit of art to everything the Shakers did — and they did more than what has become known as Shaker design. In addition to providing for their own households — the communities were organized as “family orders” while adhering to the separation of the sexes and celibacy required of the sect — the Shakers supported themselves by creating products for “the world’s people,” from furniture and textiles to seeds and food products. And so, what they produced often had more decorative aspects than what has come to be associated with them.

“Let’s get rid of another myth: the Shakers were not poor! They were artisans … they were people of means, people of understanding,” said Hadd in one of the Shakerism 101 talks he presented last year in Rockland.

There are examples of painting and drawing in the exhibition. “Shakers Seeds” was one of the goods produced in communities and sold to those outside, each packet with handpainted illustrations and lettering (one reason overburdened families brought their children to be raised in Shaker communities is that they would not only be taken care of, they also would be taught to read and write). Hutton’s play includes a scene of Shaker women — the all-female cast hails from towns from Waldoboro to Belfast, as well as Portland and Gardiner — painting packets and filling them with seeds.

And then there are the gift drawings, rare artifacts from the Era of Manifestations, the period explored in “As it is in Heaven.” The term "Shakers" derives from Shaking Quakers, as the members were sometimes called by outsiders ill-informed as to their beliefs (there is no Quaker connection) and astounded by the ecstatic dancing they did — “shaking” figures in both the historical songs and tradition-based dances depicted in the play.

The sect was founded by former Methodist visionist Mother Ann Lee, who brought her followers from England, arriving in in 1774 and establishing America’s first Shaker settlement at Niskayuna, N.Y. (now Colonie, adjacent to Albany International Airport). Lee believed the second coming of Christ was imminent and her followers devoted themselves to preparing for it, putting their energy into creating Heaven on Earth rather than mating and procreating. The Shakers were unusual among the fledgling nation’s many utopian movements, in that men and women were equal in power, reflecting a belief in both a Mother and Father God. The pacifist Shakers also welcomed all races to their fold.

Lee died a mere 10 years after arriving in this country, but the Shaker movement continued. As time went on, and the Second Coming did not arrive, practices changed and momentum began to dwindle. But in 1837, a period known as Mother Ann’s Work began, a revival that swept through all the communities and was marked by visions, ecstatic movement and various “gifts,” including drawings deemed to come directly from Mother Ann herself.

At its height in the 1850s, the movement had some 6,000 adherents in communities throughout New England and west to Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. After the Civil War, however, Shaker communities began to decline. They folded one after another in the 20th century, including the one founded by Mother Ann Lee. Sabbathday Lake is the last active Shaker community. Hadd, in his 50s, is the sole Brother; the two Sisters, one of whom worked with Hadd on the exhibition, are some 10 and 20 years older. Hadd became a Shaker at age 21 and serves as the community’s farmer, printer, historian, elder and trustee.

The Farnsworth exhibition has two gift drawings from the period of Mother Ann’s Work, as well as examples of traditional clothing from the Shaker heyday. Also included are the expected examples of furniture, as well as farm and household implements. Sabbathday Lake’s colony of red barns and white meetinghouses dates from the 18th century, but the residents of its four-story dwelling house watch television, read newspapers and use the Internet. Hadd is a connected Brother, fielding calls and emails in 21st-century mode.

“Shakerism is organic. It is ever-open, ever-changing and ever-evolving, because it has to adapt to its time, its circumstances and the light that has been received,” Hadd said. He still holds out hope that people will join the community.

“Every day in our morning prayers, we pray most earnestly for competent vocations to be brought to this way of life so that Shakerism will endure in this place we so lovingly call chosen land,” Hadd said.

The Farnsworth is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; “The Shakers: From Mount Lebanon to the World” fills the Morehouse Wing off Main Street. For more information about the exhibition, visit Performances of “As it is in Heaven” are Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m.; and Sundays at 2 p.m. through March 1 at the Rockport Opera House, 6 Central St.; see story below for ticket information. There is a pre-show opening night party 6 p.m. Friday Feb. 20; and a Q&A with the cast following the Sunday matinee Feb. 22.