Wednesday, December 22, 2021

The Books He Never Wrote - Bud Thompson, National Treasure

The Books He Never Wrote - Bud Thompson, National Treasure

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Sister Lilian Phelps

Hands to Work, Hearts to God
The Shaker Spirit Lives at Canterbury Shaker Village
By Wayne D. King

Canterbury Shaker Village

What most people know about the Shakers could be summed up in a few words: cool furniture, practiced celibacy.

But there is a world of interesting things about the Shaker people waiting to be explored at the Canterbury Shaker Village.

Yes the Shaker’s were extraordinary craftsmen creating everything from simple and beautiful furniture to basketry and weavings. But they were also inventors, scientists, philosophers, civil libertarians, abolitionists, songwriters and much, much, more. Did you know that the Shakers invented the washing machine? The circular saw? The clothespin? Did you know that they were horticultural pioneers, developing hundreds of new species of plants and herbs through genetic cross breeding? Did you know that they created hundreds of other time saving devices and have even been credited with developing mass production before Henry Ford made it world-famous?

The Shakers are considered to be an offshoot of the Quakers. The sect originated in Manchester, England in around 1772. Strict believers in celibacy, Shakers maintained their numbers through conversion and adoption. Once boasting over six thousand adherents, today the Shakers, with the exception of a small contingent of people living in Sabbathday Lake, Maine, are but a memory.

Originally and properly called the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, the Shakers, like the “Yankee Doodles” of the same era, derived their common name from a pejorative appellation adopted by the group as a source of pride.

Under the leadership of James and Jane Wardley, a husband and wife team; and, most notably, by Mother Ann Lee, the group became known for their intense, ecstatic worship including shaking or quaking during religious activities and at times speaking in “tongues” - both of which were considered signs of divine intervention and inspiration.

Today in New Hampshire the Shaker life and legacy and heritage remains alive through the work of the Canterbury Shaker Village. Founded in 1969 to preserve the heritage of the Canterbury Shakers, Canterbury Shaker Village is an internationally renowned, non-profit museum and historic site with 25 original Shaker buildings, including the only intact, first-generation 18th-century Meetinghouse and Dwelling House, both on their original sites. There are also three reconstructed Shaker buildings and 694 acres of forests, fields, gardens and mill ponds under permanent conservation easement.

Designated a National Historic Landmark for its architectural beauty, integrity and significance, Canterbury Shaker Village is dedicated to preserving the 200-year legacy of the Canterbury Shakers and to providing a place for learning, reflection and renewal of the human spirit.

Visitors learn about the life, ideals, values and legacy of the Canterbury Shakers through tours, programs, exhibits, research and publications.

In addition to the daily tours, during the course of the year, the Village sponsors many community events that draw local folks and visitor from far and wide. For example the annual “Wool Day Festival” at the Shaker Village takes place this year on September 23. We detail it in the “50 Autumn Adventures” story elsewhere in this issue.

Canterbury Shaker Village is a treat for the heart, soul and palate. If you haven’t yet been, it should be on your list. If you have been, it may be time to recharge your spirit with another visit.

Bud and Nancy Thompson
Reprinted from Heart of New Hampshire Magazine
Founded Shaker Museum and Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum
 By Gail Thorell Schilling 

When Charles "Bud" Thompson was 7 years old, a Paucatuck Chief urged him to find his talent and use it. Now in his 90s, Bud has found and used many talents. Yet the founder of the Canterbury Shaker Museum and the Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum in Warner shies from limelight. After all, he's just doing his part: making the world a little better, finding his place in the Circle.

A Place in the Circle
            A native of Newport, RI, Bud recalls that life-changing day in second grade. "Our teacher told us we were going to have a visitor. Then in walked a huge, handsome Indian. Our eyes popped out of our heads, but he wasn't threatening." Sachem Silver Star invited the children to sit on the floor in a circle, the Native American's most sacred symbol, "because when you take your place in the circle, you belong." Eyes twinkling, Bud continues. "Silver Star told us that when you're born, you're given a special gift, a talent. When you find it, use it."
            That evening, little Bud described the encounter to his family, including his older sister who had nicked named him. "She said 'Write him a letter and tell him how great he is. Tell him you hope he'll read about you someday.' So I did and my sister corrected my spelling." Silver Star duly responded, enclosing a photo of himself and thanking Bud. "He said he was already proud of me for writing the letter."
            That summer, young Bud visited his grandparents on their farm in Connecticut, where he enjoyed working alongside his grandpa in the garden. "It was a scorcher of a day," Bud recalls. "I was drinking cold water under a maple tree when I saw a little stone. Grandpa told me it was an Indian arrowhead, probably a spear point or a knife blade. Grandpa told me it was like a voice out of the past telling me someone had once lived here." The discovery had a profound effect on the small boy who began to collect more artifacts from Grandpa -- Algonquin, Pequod and Mohegan -- even as he discovered his own talents.

Passing the Torch - Father to Daughter
Photographed in Hanover, NH
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Musical Gifts
             By age 16, Bud performed as a "singing cowboy" on WMEX in Boston. He chuckles. "My sister typed official looking-letters so we could get free booklets about cowboys like Wild Bill Hickock. Then I'd tie in a song with the cowboy stories." The show helped to launch his country music duo, Babs and Bud, which toured the United States. Darryl Thompson of Gilmanton describes his dad's musical career as "opry to opera," because Bud studied voice with Alexander Kipnis of the Metropolitan.
When Bud lamented the lack of original folk songs for his repertoire, someone suggested that he investigate songs of American Utopias. Again, the twinkle. "Utopia? How do you spell it?" The simple suggestion, however, resonated with his philosophy of life: "Read, read, read -- then try it." While researching groups that tried to find "heaven on earth," he found the Canterbury, NH, Shaker Village, and perhaps, his own piece of paradise.
            Founded in 1792 by the Shakers, a deeply spiritual group espousing communal living, pacifism and a simple lifestyle, the Canterbury community had peaked in the 1840s. By the time Bud arrived, the once-vigorous Shaker enterprises -- agriculture, furniture making, handcrafts,-- had sorely declined. The few surviving Sisters struggled to hang on, giving tours of their home and selling items amassed over 160 years. The treasure trove included thousands of Shaker hymns, many written at Canterbury.

Shaker Village Years
            Bud remembers, "In the 1950s I took a tour [at the Shaker Village] and bought a hymnal in the antique shop. When Sister Lillian Phelps saw my hymnal, she asked, 'Would you like to sing some duets?'" The friendship would endure for decades.
"We corresponded, and the family and I were invited for Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations." The family by this time included Bud's wife Harriett; and one son Darryl.
Darryl, now a Shaker historian, explains: "The last Shaker brother had died in 1939. Since it was hard for the sisters to climb stairs, they wanted to close the tours. They had already advertised their season, so they asked Dad to do the tours." Already Bud had become a collector of Shaker artifacts, buying them as the declining village sold them. He added his own pieces to his entertaining Meeting House lecture, the better to educate his rapt audiences.
By 1959, Bud's folk singing tours, sometimes 13 concerts a week, had taken their toll. "I had worked all summer for the Shaker Village, dreading a tour of Wisconsin and Minnesota in the fall. When the sisters asked me if I'd consider staying, I stayed." For the next 32 years the Thompson’s called East House home. "We never worked for more beautiful people. They represented what Christianity should be."
Darryl says, "Dad's title was 'curator,' but it's hard to give a title to what he did because he did everything."

Preserving Shaker Legacy
            Perhaps the most important thing Bud did was to persuade the last Shaker women that their property did not have to be sold. "I loved it and knew it had to be saved, but the Eldress wanted to phase it out." When Bud suggested that the entire Village become a museum, the Eldresses were tentative, skeptical, cautious and a bit bewildered. According to Darryl “A historical restoration was outside of their frame of cultural reference. To them, a museum was a building. They could not conceive of an entire community as a museum. To them, a museum had four walls.”

"So I took them to Sturbridge Village and the Shelburne Museum" said Bud, places he took his own children to see living history. Three of the surviving Shaker sisters: Eldress Bertha Lindsay, Sister Lillian Phelps, and Eldress Marguerite Frost participated in these visits and were convinced. They became the core of support needed to gaining the support of the remaining sisters. 

When a feasibility study also suggested that the Shaker Village, a group of 20-plus original buildings, could become a "living" museum, the Eldresses agreed and attorney Richard Morse, a member of a Manchester law firm, set up the legal corporation.

During his years at the Shaker Village, Bud worked as the historical director and remains an honorary trustee. Nancy worked as a tour guide, then as director of education. These experiences would serve them well as they pursued "retirement" and a dream deferred -- their own museum.
Completing the Circle
            Inspired by Silver Star, Bud had continued to collect Native American artifacts all his life: baskets, beadwork, clothing, tools, weapons. Now it was time to share them. Bud sold property, which had been in his family for four generations, to buy a horse farm in Warner, NH. Situated atop a hill near Mt. Kearsarge, the 12-acre spread had both a house for the couple -- and an enclosed riding arena for their museum, which would open in 1991. Bud insists that the venture would not have happened without the partnership of his wife Nancy. "I have a lot of wild ideas. She's the filter system that makes them practical. I'm just a lucky guy surrounded by people more intelligent than I am who helped me."
Darryl had always wanted to contact Silver Star to surprise his father and to let the Chief know what an impression he had made. The research savvy historian, to Bud’s "utter amazement," connected with a grandson of Silver Star in Rhode Island. Though the Chief had passed away, Bud and Nancy honored 32 members of Silver Star's family on opening day of Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum -- a circle completed.
            The circle also figures prominently in the floor plan of the 8,500 sq. foot museum, both for symbolism and, as Nancy says, "surprise." Guests can see only a few regional galleries at one time.
Museum Director Krista Katz says, "They [the galleries] take you on a journey of the United States, in which New England Woodland Tribes form the most significant focus." The thousand "stellar artifacts" include a 3-4 foot Apache olla, a Nez Pierce cradle board, a Chippewa/Ojibway adolescent boy's ceremonial outfit and Southwestern pottery 7,000-12,000 years old.
Katz marvels, "The thing that amazes me is that an ordinary man -- not a man of wealth and privilege -- has the perseverance and dedication to share with the public in this way."
            Significantly, the museum has little signage. Bud explains, "I wanted a museum with a voice. Let the tour guides flesh out the artifacts. Just show what they [the Native Americans] loved. Touch the heart. Touch the people."
            Artifacts are just the beginning. Bud worked for four years at the Arnold Arboretum, Harvard University's Botanical Gardens, so plants play a prominent role in the setting. The museum's acreage includes a Medicine Walk through nearby pine woods where signs identify plants used by Native Americans. Heritage corn grows in a nearby garden. A tipi and sweat lodge on a grassy hilltop command a view of Mt. Kearsarge. Bud says, "I wanted to make a tranquility zone where people can find peace, not just a mausoleum of artifacts. We want this to go on long after we're here." In addition to pow wows and festivals, the ever-growing Museum offers educational camps and workshops. Last year alone, 6,500 school children visited the Museum. "Without the help of my wife, Krista, the staff and volunteers, none of this could happen," Bud maintains. "we're all connected."
These days Bud says he's "fishing" for a new project. Coming from a family with longevity genes-- one aunt lived to 105 -- he's not done yet. The octogenarian idealist still tells stories, mows lawn, lugs rocks and plants trees. "Life isn't worth anything unless you leave it better than you found it," he says -- unless you find your place in The Circle.

Ed's note: This article was produced for Heart of New Hampshire Magazine and and transferred to this website to assure that the stories and articles written for the magazine would never be lost to the public.

Our Time Comes
Color Image by Wayne D.King
Taken at the National Mall, Washington, DC at the Pow Wow celebrating the opening of the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian.

Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum

The Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum Education and Cultural Center is located in Warner, a classic New England village nestled in the New Hampshire hills. The Museum is situated on 100 acres of field, wetlands and forest and lies at the foot of Mt. Kearsarge, the home of Rollins State Park, and a popular hiking mountain known for one of the most spectacular views in New England.

The Museum is a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing the public awareness of Native American traditions, philosophy and art.

MKIM is open the first Saturday in May through the Thanksgiving Holidays, Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sundays from 12 noon to 5 p.m. Open weekends in November and December, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Saturday, and 12 noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. The administrative office is open all year.

The Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum was started in 1991 by Bud and Nancy Thompson, Bud was also the sparkplugs behind the establishment of Canterbury Shaker Village. The Museum is the result of Bud Thompson's life-long interest in the American Indian, which began with a visit to his second grade class from Grand Sachem Chief Silver Star, leader of the Paucatuck Eastern Pequot Indians of Connecticut. This respect for the earth and all living things upon it became the guiding principal of the Museum.

Kearsarge Mountain Road, P.O. Box 142 Warner
Merrimack USA
Phone: (603) 456-3244


History of the Mt Kearsarge Indian Museum

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