Imagine that you have inherited $16 million and your parents have been ardent art collectors. You have inherited the collector bug, but you are far more interested in all things early American. This was the enviable position Electra Webb found herself in. Although she lived in a mansion in NYC, she loved the northern Vermont area and purchased a sizable piece of property to house the collection she spent her life building. We have enjoyed many historic museums over the years including on this trip. But Shelburne Museum is one of the most diverse and unconventional museums of art and Americana we have ever seen. Over 150,000 works are exhibited in a remarkable setting of 38 exhibition buildings, 25 of which are historic and were relocated to the museum grounds. Impressionist paintings, folk art, quilts and textiles, decorative arts, furniture, American paintings, and a dazzling array of 17th-to 20th-century artifacts are on view. Shelburne is home to the finest museum collections of 19th-century American folk art, quilts, 19th- and 20th-century decoys, and carriages. The guide book said it would take at least four hours to tour the place. When we bought our tickets which will allow us to return tomorrow, that was far more realistic.
We walked and walked and walked until we could walk no further. If an object existed in the early 1800's, you could find it here. The craftsmanship and creativity we saw in many articles made of wood and textiles was mind boggling. It seemed that once the collection had reached a critical mass, outsiders started donating their own collections to the museum. For example, a Canadian donated the world's largest collection of trivets to the museum. Some items must have been purchased cheaply as they became obsolete. We saw beautifully appointed and complete physician's offices - surgeon, optometrist, dentist - they are all here. The apothecary shelves were fully stocked, mostly with all sorts of flim flam medicines that couldn't cure whatever ailed you. The shelves of the general store were equally crammed with items that would have been sold there back in the day. These were not recreated inventories; rather they were the actual goods.
A covered bridge was moved here. Huge barns housed huge collections of stage coaches, conestoga wagons, sleighs. Webb's husband had his own train car; it would have been a private plane today. He used it to commute from NYC to Shelburne and over the years many presidents rode in it as well. It's here. We walked six hundred feet through a circular building that housed a model of the sorts of carriages, wagons, animals and performers that would have been in a circus parade. It this model came to life, the parade would be 2.5 miles long. A light house was moved here. And most ambitiously the paddle wheeled steam boat Ticonderoga was moved two miles over land from Lake Champlain to rest here as a National Historic Landmark. The grounds were beautifully landscaped. Authentic flower and vegetable gardens were well tended and weed free.
We were impressed!