Friday, August 21, 2009

Flowers in Grass and Glass

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

This morning we continued our drive up Route 7, knowing that we didn't have very far to go before Shelburne, our ultimate destination for the day. Sure enough, only about 30 or so minutes into our drive, we arrived at the Vermont Wildflower Farm. A few years ago Joe bought a LOT of wildflower seeds from this company and scattered them all over our front lawn. We both LOVE wildflowers, although that attempt to naturalize our yard didn't work quite as well as we would have liked (probably our neighbors were not thrilled with the "look", in any case!) But we were interested to see the source of all those lovely flowers.

The building was, indeed, surrounded by fields of wildflowers--so pretty! We went inside first, and bought ourselves some more packages of seeds, this time for Joe's office in the side garden (which is VERY shady--we bought a heavy shade mix), and for the area between the sidewalk and street at home (light shade). We are excited to see how well they grow. The shop itself was so fun, just full of seeds everywhere. I am a terrible gardener but I do love the flowers so much.
After we shopped, we walked in the fields for a little bit. There were informational signs everywhere describing the habits of many of the flowers. We enjoyed it a lot.
When we left the Wildflower Farm, we backtracked to a store we'd passed already--Dakin Farm. This is a place with lots of Vermont food items, including their own cheddar cheese--Joe was having a cheese craving! We got lots of "tastes", then bought some cheddar, some salsa, and a couple of other things, including a local farmer's melon. You can't come to Vermont without buying cheddar cheese--and we are still planning to visit Cabot Creamery for THEIR special cheddar as well.

We then headed up the road again and after a discussion of where to go next, arrived at the Shelburne Museum at about 12:30. We ate some lunch and went in at 1:00 p.m. The museum had sounded good on the Internet, especially because there were two special shows this season--one of vintage motorcycles, and one of items created by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Other than these two shows, we had little idea of what to expect of the museum beyond the brief description in our map, that it was contained in 39 buildings and there were more than a dozen gardens. It sounded unusual.

Well, what can I say--Joe and I were both totally enchanted by the Shelburne Museum!! The museum was created by a woman named Electra Havemeyer Webb. She was incredibly wealthy on her own, and she married James Watson Webb, whose mother was a daughter of William Vanderbilt. In other words, together they were fabulously wealthy. Electra inherited the collecting bug from her parents. Her mother, Louisine Havemeyer, was the first to introduce impressionism to the U.S.--she was a good friend of Mary Cassatt, who guided her in purchasing paintings from all the impressionists. (BTW, Louisine was also a suffragette who was arrested for marching in a demonstration to get the vote for women. She went to jail because she refused to pay the $5 fine!) Electra's father collected Japanese screens, paintings, and other items. I found the story of this family so fascinating that I bought a small book about Electra and the Museum when we left, and finished it in one night.

Whereas Louisine's first acquisition was a Degas painting, Electra's first purchase was a wooden cigar store Indian! She had a passion for American folk art, and literally stuffed her several homes (in Vermont and New York) with collections of dolls, pewter, furniture, dolls houses, toys, needlework, farm implements, hatboxes, weathervanes--basically every conceivable category of folk art. Apparently she simply could not let anything get away from her! When her husband inherited a collection of horse-drawn vehicles from his own parents, Electra began the creation of her own museum, building a special barn to house the vehicles and simultaneously filling a nearby building with some of her own collections.

Her final "collection" was actually the buildings which now house the Shelburne Museum! She had so much stuff, she basically had to buy buildings to keep it in, and the buildings she bought were, like her own collections, examples of Americana. The museum buildings include a schoolhouse, meeting house, stagecoach inn, barns, and 18th and 19th century cottages, as well as a general store, a covered bridge, a lighthouse, and even a boat--the 3-story steamship Ticonderoga. The story of the relocation of this boat from Shelburne Harbor two miles away to the grounds of the museum is absolutely fabulous--how my father would have LOVED this story! The boat was floated onto a specially-made railroad car, which was then hauled overland on special tracks. The video and photos of the move are just wonderful.
We spent 4 hours at the museum until it closed, and were very happy to know that our tickets allowed us entry on a second day--we were only about half through the museum. We started out in the round barn (which is the entry point), visiting the special motorcycle exhibit. (BTW, to anyone reading this blog who doesn't realize it: if you click on any of the photos, they will enlarge. The detail you will see in some of these photos when they are enlarged, fx the circus photos, will really amaze you!)From there, we went to the circus building, first riding on the vintage carousel and then enjoying the circus collection, which included a 550-foot long, hand-carved, scale model of a circus parade, as well as circus posters, carousel animals, a hand-carved circus (by a different person than the maker of the parade), and even a video on historic preservation of the wooden carvings.

From there we went to the Electra Havemeyer Webb Memorial Building, which is a modern building in a Palladian style. It was built specifically so that the rooms from the Havemeyer family's 5th Avenue, New York home (where Electra grew up) could be transported and recreated on the site of the museum. These rooms contain some of the Impressionist art collected by Louisine, including works by Cassatt, Manet, Monet, Corot, and Degas, as well as some of the Japanese pieces collected by Henry Havemeyer.

We went from there to the Tiffany exhibit--which was simply stunning. Not only were there many examples of lamps and windows, but also furniture, flatware, ceramics, and jewelry. Louisine Havemeyer gave Louis C Tiffany a free hand to design much of her home, and the results were simply outrageous. Right down to her incredible flatware set, no two pieces of which were alike! Many of her own items were part of the exhibit.
Naively thinking that everything afterwards would be an anticlimax, we wandered into the Stagecoach Inn, only to be met by an absolutely charming collection of weathervanes, ship figureheads, cigar-store figures, and other miscellaneous examples of wooden and metal folk art.

The setting for these items in the Stagecoach Inn was absolutely brilliant, and I think this is the point where I totally fell in love with the museum. Also, by this time we were dying of curiosity about Electra herself. It was the docent in this building who gave us some more general information about the buildings, the process by which they'd come to be on the grounds, and Electra's own collections. I should add that there were docents in almost every building, but rather than being there to keep people away from the exhibits, they managed to create an atmosphere of friendliness and happiness. The style of display of most of the objects we saw made them seem very accessible. There were very few barriers to the larger pieces, and the result was an experience of intimacy which was truly special.

We wandered around a little more, visiting the schoolhouse and the original building full of pewter, dolls and dollhouses, and (our particular interest) automata; but by then it was 5:00 and they were kicking us out. We drove only a mile further to a campground right in Shelburne, very convenient, since we were by no means finished with the museum and the other sights of this town.

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