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Leisure collections: The Shelburne Museum

(Added 5 September 2010)

Image: “the imagined home of a retired wealthy sea captain”

Founded by the eccentric heiress Elektra Havemeyer in 1947, the Shelburne Museum is a dream made reality, created to celebrate the American aesthetic – from folk art, to decorative art, to architecture, fine art and other strange and marvellous artefacts. It’s a perfect destination for a leisurely summer drive through Vermont.

When creating the Museum Ms. Havemeyer took the imaginative step of collecting 18th- and 19th-century buildings from New England and New York in which to display the Museum’s holdings, relocating 20 historic structures to Shelburne. These include houses, barns, a meeting house, a one-room schoolhouse, a lighthouse, a jail, a general store, a covered bridge, and the 220-foot steamboat Ticonderoga.

Mrs. Webb sought to create “an educational project, varied and alive.” What visitors experience at Shelburne is unique: remarkable collections exhibited in a village-like setting of historic New England architecture, accented by a landscape that includes over 400 lilacs, a circular formal garden, herb and heirloom vegetable gardens, and perennial gardens.

These spaces are all realisations of Elektra Havemeyer’s imagination and fancy. When she obtained the 1790s era home that would become the Vermont House, for example, she decided it would portray the the imagined home of a retired wealthy sea captain who had collected high- style American furnishings and French and English decorative accessories in his travels.

A visitor can wonder through a multitude of fantastical collections held within historical
architecture – an extensive miniature circus parade, a room full of glass canes, another full of hat boxes, a carefully preserved 19th century train car, a reconstruction of Elektra’s Park Avenue apartment complete with original paintings by Manet, Degas and family friend Mary Cassatt. An experience not to be missed.

More information about the museum and collections can be found here

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