Special Collections and University Archives, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Louise Shattuck Papers
In her long life, Louise Shattuck wore many hats -- artist, teacher, dog-breeder, writer, and Spiritualist -- but to her, she only wore one: that of an art-making, skill-teaching, dog-breeding, writing, and spirit-talking resident of Lake Pleasant, Mass. Somehow, Shattuck managed the difficult feat of knitting these disparate strands into a single, seamless life, her professional and personal interests weaving together in a uniquely creative way.
Geographically, intellectually, and spiritually, the center of Shattuck's life was the village of Lake Pleasant, Mass. One of five villages in the town of Montague, Lake Pleasant was established in 1870 when George Potter, a real estate agent from neighboring Greenfield, sensed a business opportunity. Acquiring the land around the southern tip of the lake, Potter set up picnic tables and invited local residents to use the area as a park. It was an instant success, so much so Potter rapidly decided to cash out, selling the property to the Boston and Maine Railroad Company in 1872 so that it could be expanded into a regional destination for summer tourism. Taking advantage of the scenic lake front and deep woods, the Railroad erected a railroad stop, a pavilion and bandstand, hotel, and other amenities. Waging an aggressive marketing campaign, they lured dozens, and eventually thousands of tourists per year. From the outset, some of these visitors came in groups: Odd Fellows, Freemasons, Congregationalists, Unitarians, and Spiritualists among them.
It was Spiritualists, more than any other group, who exerted the greatest influence on the development of Lake Pleasant, and particularly those associated with the New England Spiritualist Camp-meeting Association (NESCA). Formed in 1874 and incorporated in 1879, NESCA was part of the first wave of truly successful regional- and national-level Spiritualist organizations, built upon the evangelical model of holding seasonal (and later permanent) camp meetings. From the beginning, NESCA found a home in Lake Pleasant, paralleling other Spiritualist groups that attached themselves to camps in Etna, Maine, Lilydale, N.Y., Chesterfield, Ind., and Cassadaga, Fla. Spiritualism soon transformed the look and feel of the community in the pine woods. "There never was a summer night when one did not have a choice of attending any number of [Spiritualist] 'circles'," Shattuck wrote in Yankee Magazine in 1968 (p.141). In 1913, a number of Lake Pleasant Spiritualists affiliated with NESCA split with their peers over some philosophical differences (reincarnation among them) to form the National Spiritual Alliance (TNSA). For over sixty years, the village hosted two Spiritualist temples, one for each faction.
When Louise was born on December 24, 1919, the only child of a railway electrician Frank Shattuck and his wife Sarah (Bickford), Lake Pleasant was in its heyday. Like their adopted village, the Shattucks were committed Spiritualists: Louise's maternal grandmother, Anna (Dyer) Bickford, was one of the early mediums at the resort, and Sarah Shattuck (also called Sara or Sadie) followed suit, delivering spirit messages and inspiration from spirit sources up until the time of Louise's birth. Louise inherited mediumistic tendencies from her women forebears, and although she never acted as a professional medium, throughout her life she engaged in automatic writing and in use of the planchette and Ouija board to contact spirit beings.
In the years following the First World War, Lake Pleasant experienced a slow decline, driven in part by the decrease of summering as a middle class activity and of Spiritualism as a religion. Although the rise of the automobile and decay of the American rail system hurt many summer resorts, Lake Pleasant was hit particularly hard after access to the lake was curtailed, then shut off, when its waters became a reservoir for the town of Montague. The Shattucks, however, remained loyal. Although Louise was born and raised in Medford, Mass., she and her family continued to summer in the cottage that Frank had built barely twenty yards from the TNSA temple, and following Frank's death in 1948, Sarah became a full time resident.
Louise emulated her mother in more than just mediumistic talent: the two shared a passion for animals, particularly dogs, for art and teaching. By her senior year at Medford High School, was already set on her future life course, entering Massachusetts College of Art (class of 1941) intent on making a career in the graphic arts. Although she taught art off and on for many years, beginning with a stint teaching ceramics at Garland Junior College in Boston (later absorbed into Simmons College), she began as early as 1943 to produce ceramic, clay, and bronze figurines for commercial distribution. Striking her first contracts with the Boston firm Contemporary Arts, and taking her grandmother's maiden name (Ann Dyer) as a pseudonym, she began to distribute work through Hudson Pewter, Lance Corporation, and the American Pewter Company.
Thematically and stylistically, Louise's early work was quite diverse, ranging from a figurine of a ballet dancer to a small sculpture of an Arab rider on horseback (one of her favorite pieces) that was sculpted under the influence of a spirit named Charles Memling. By the mid-1940s, however, her work acquired a real focus when she settled into a niche as an animal artist, dogs being her distinct favorite subject. An early member of the Society of Animal Arts), she also did a great deal of graphic work for magazines, particularly those associated with dog breeding, producing pen and ink drawings and cartoons, as well as pastels and paintings, both for private commission and retail distribution. Her love of dogs extended well beyond her artwork, and dogs assumed a greater prominence in her life as she grew older. As proprietor of Carry On Kennels, she became well known as a breeder of English Cocker Spaniels and stalwart in the English Cocker Spaniel Club of America.
Louise also became an author. In addition to two humorous works on her experiences with dogs, From Riches to Bitches (1979) and In Stitches Over Bitches (1983), Louise wrote and illustrated a children's book, The Donkey and the Tree (1999). Her last book, co-written with her friend David James, was "portrait of the body, mind, and soul" of her beloved Lake Pleasant, Spirit and Spa (2003).
Never married, Louise joined her mother in Lake Pleasant in 1967 as Sarah's health began to fail. Louise remained active as a sculptor and illustrator well into her 80s, remaining in her family cottage until her death in October 2005.