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Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, VT

Electra Havemeyer Webb Memorial Building, Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont.
When is an art museum not an art museum? Moreover, when does an art museum become much more than an art museum. Those are both rhetorical questions, by the way, but nonetheless food for thought. In my continuing series promoting small museums, I came upon the Shelburne Museum located in Shelburne, Vermont. As art museums go, it isn't much of one, it's collection of paintings having some works by important artists, but not very many of them. They don't talk about actual numbers but I'm guessing their art collection falls well short of one-hundred. Can you still call that an art museum?

The Shelburne Museum (of art and everything else).
Having said that, to conclude that the Shelburne Museum is just a museum is to sell it far short as a repository of valuable artifacts from the past (including paintings). The Shelburne is a small village full of little else but museums--thirty-eight of them, to be exact, with twenty-eight of those being to some degree historic. It sprawls over some forty-five acres near Lake Champlain. Counting everything within those museums, the Shelburne holdings reaches upward to around 150,000 items. Only Henry Ford with his Greenfield Village (and museum) near Dearborn, Michigan, and the Rockefeller involvement with Colonial Williamsburg come close to matching it in size, breadth, depth and scope.
Besides an excursion steamer (below), Shelburne has its own lighthouse (miles from the lake) and a round barn.
Many wealthy American families over the past couple centuries have collected art. The wealthy sugar manufacturer, Henry Osborne Havemeyer and his wife, Louisine, collected Impressionism, and to a lesser extent a few important American painters from roughly the same period. But they, and most other wealthy industrialist families, pale in comparison to the collecting spree their daughter, Electra Havemeyer Webb, embarked upon around 1911 and for the next fifty years of the 20th century. If it was historic, artistic, and not tied down (sometimes even if it was), Electra collected it. She referred to her items as a collection of collections. Most famously, Electra bought, then plopped down right in the middle of her outdoor museum, a 220-ton steamboat that had once churned the waters of nearby Lake Champlain.
The Ticonderoga last sailed in 1953 before being hauled over
two miles to Shelburne. The cost? No one talks about that.
Electra Havemeyer was born in 1888, and later attended Miss Spence's School. As a young girl, she enjoyed traveling with her family over the American West, as well as France, Italy, Spain, Egypt, Greece and Austria. She did not attend college. Electra married polo champion James Watson Webb II, a member of the Vanderbilt family with whom she had five children. Perhaps the most interesting work in the Shelburne collection is a pastel portrait by the American expatriate painter, Mary Cassatt (below), a portrait of Electra and her mother. Among the other Impressionist her mother collected are works by Degas, Manet, and Monet.
Electra would have been about seven when the portrait
above was commissioned.
Among the works by American artists hanging in natural, homelike, period settings to be found in the many Shelburne museums, are Albert Bierstadt, Winslow Homer, Fitz Henry (Hugh) Lane, George Henry Durrie, and Mary Robertson (Grandma) Moses (below). Virtually all the Shelburne art is on display all the time, a feature only the smaller museums can boast.

Unlike many of her fellow art collectors, and her own parents, Electra Havemeyer Webb showed a distinct preference for American art, especially Folk art.

Among the Shelburne's major holdings holding other major holdings are a general store (left), a round barn, displaying duck decoys and carriages, a horseshoe shaped barn (with circus memorabilia, an art gal-lery featuring the work of American artist Ogden Pleis-sner, famous for his Life mag-azine illustrations, landscapes, and sports art. The museum also displays an extensive array of quilts (below) representing all periods of American quilting art.
Contemporary quilt Exhibit, by Velda Newman
There's also a covered bridge (bottom), a general store (above, left), a print shop, blacksmith shop, a train depot complete with a car shed, locomotive, and antique railroad cars. This woman obviously did not think small. Electra Havemeyer Webb died in 1960. Her museum, however did not die with her, but in fact, has continued to grow and expand under the wise, but aggressive oversight of her five children (all of which have since died). As evidence of this, it should be noted that not every building at Shelburne is hundreds of years old (or at least looks that way).

Pizzagalli Center for Art and Education, Shelburne, Vermont.
The Pizzagalli Center for Art and Education (above) was designed and built not with the past in mind, but the future. Strikingly postmodern in style and function, the center is a regional mecca for art, music, film, lectures, and more. With its soaring central space, two expansive modern galleries, a 130-seat auditorium, and 2,000 square feet of flexible classroom space, the Pizzagalli Center is an anchor for the Shelburne Museum campus. Its award-winning design by Ann Beha Architects of Boston establishes it as part of the same history of design and architecture that the museum and its collections celebrate.

The Shelburne Museum is located seven
miles south of Burlington, VT, on US 7 south.

Summer adult admission is $24. During the
winter months that drops to $10
(speeding fines not included).


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