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A Review of Great Meadows: The Making of Here

~ by Elizabeth Ann Smith

When a book is truly exceptional, it can transport its readers elsewhere. For a moment, physical place and imagined location are unhinged — the reader is no longer bound to their sofa or chair, but can wander freely through another world. The mind is at once absent and present: taken from one location and placed in another. Great Meadows: The Making of Here acts as a portal not only to The Shands’ residence and collection, but a testament to the tenor within its walls. Indeed, it is more than a book — it is an extension of the Shands’ life and home.

Al Shands is an Episcopal Priest and author, as well as an award-winning filmmaker, with over thirty-five documentary films to his credit. His late wife, Mary Norton Shands, an activist in cultural affairs, co-founded and was first President of the Kentucky Art and Craft Foundation (now KMAC).

Great Meadows presents an intimate look in to the making of the Shands’ residence, and provides a comprehensive backstory to the architecture, collection, and collectors. The book avoids a pedantic introduction — readers are instead encouraged to “dive right in” through excerpts from A Career and Selected Projects by the architect, David Morton. Part of Morton’s allure is his simplicity: he comments that the Shands’ residence was graphed by pocket calculator, pencil, and paper — no computers or technical drafting aids. The completed project is prodigious yet modest: Great Meadows can accommodate up to one hundred and fifty guests for dinner, but at the same time, remain intimate enough for two people.[1]

Small yet powerful gestures contained within the book’s pages hide in every nook and cranny — “easter eggs” for the reader to stumble upon. In between two pages of Morton’s excerpts is a copy of Reverend Shands’ penned speech from the opening reception of Great Meadows in September 1988, printed on the same delicate paper and typeface one might encounter in a bible. Before he began collecting with his late wife Mary, Shands founded an Episcopal church in Washington D.C., and these inserts, which continue throughout the book, stand as physical reminders of his history.

Spearheaded and edited by independent curator and contributing author Julien Robson (previously affiliated with the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the Speed Art Museum), Great Meadows boasts essays from critics, curators, poets, and artists — all whom have connected, in some time and place, with the Shands. This includes but is not limited to such figures as Peter Morrin, former director of the Speed Museum, Glenn Adamson, author and critic, Alice Gray Stites, current director of 21c Museum Hotels, Maya Lin, sculpture and landscape artist (and designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.), and sound artist Stephen Vitiello. Each essay is specific to the book — they are documents of their respective authors’ connection and relationship with Alfred and Mary Shands.

Perhaps the most poignant essay is authored by John Yau, renowned poet and writer. Although the book is lined with vibrant color photos, “In Time, With Al Shands” is even more vivid — Yau’s imagery is a transformative journey, allowing the reader to silently accompany. Indeed, I forgot where I was for a moment while reading his words; I was observing a conversation between friends, weaving through the beautiful architecture that makes one feel as though they are both inside and outside at the same time, and slowly coming to understand the relationship between the art, the home, and the collectors.

Blurring the lines between art object and book, Great Meadows features stunning high-resolution photographs in addition to architectural drawings and artist sketches. Capturing the essence of site-specific artwork is no easy feat, but the photographers convey both the texture and presence of each installation. The office, home to Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #1082 (2003) is presented through fifteen images, varying in size and scale. The proceeding blank page is representative of the white space above the office door, only visible just before exiting the room. Truly, these small details are what render this project an “index of experience” rather than a book.

Entire pages of Great Meadows are devoted to a single color. The intensity of Anish Kapoor’s yellow concave disc, Untitled (1999), can be partially experienced on page sixty-five through a full-color experience – sans its warping of sound, which is only evident through encountering it in Rev. Shands’ first-floor walkway. It is as if every angle of the home is carefully documented, acting as a record of the artworks’ interaction with the architecture, and vice versa.

Each work, both inside and outside of the residence, is carefully selected and thoughtfully placed to engage with both the architecture and the viewer. Indeed, Rev. Shands is a mindful collector; you will find no large art storage area within the walls of Great Meadows. Although some works migrate throughout the house from time to time, they each have a space and that space is documented throughout the book’s bright pages.

Perhaps this is why the making Great Meadows is so important: the book will serve as documentation of site — a physical reminder of what was — when the artwork is separated from the home upon the passing of its owner. Rev Shands has bequeathed his collection to Louisville, Kentucky’s Speed Art Museum, and one day it will make the journey to its new permanent home on South Third Street. “A vital part of the collection is the way that you share it with others,” he states in the book’s conversation with Alice Gray Stites.[2] Indeed, the entirety of Great Meadows: The Making of Here fulfills that very statement.

Great Meadows: The Making of Here is available in limited edition through Hatje Cantz.

[1] David Morton, A Career and Selected Notes in Great Meadows: The Making of Here (Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2014), 12.

[2] Al Shands, “Excerpts from a Conversation with Alice Gray Stites” in Great Meadows: The Making of Here (Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2014), 121.