Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Visiting the Shelburne Museum

Though I lived in Vermont for five years during college and afterwards, I never managed to make it to the Shelburne Museum, which I've heard referred to as the "Smithsonian of New England." It wasn't for lack of trying, but while I was in college my busiest times - the beginning and end of the school year - coincided with the only times the Shelburne was open when I was in Vermont; I always returned to Boston for the summer. In the years afterwards, life never quite lined up.

I'm very happy to have finally rectified that gross oversight with a special trip made two weeks ago for my birthday. On May 12, the Shelburne Museum opened "for the last time" - it's opening a new year-round education & gallery space in August, and while many of the buildings will be closed per usual in the winter, they will continue operations in their new building no matter the season. We visited the following day, May 13.

The new building was designed by Ann Beha & Associates, and it's strikingly modern. Most of the buildings & grounds at the Shelburne are rustic, Old New England style; this building takes elements from its landscape and surroundings (the abundance of natural wood and the beautiful copper roof) but its angles and facade are very clearly here and now.

The new building; view looking to the right immediately on exiting the visitors' center.
The building - "The Center for Art and Education at the Shelburne Museum" - will contain 5,000 feet of flexible gallery space, a 130 seat lecture and performance space, and  2,000 feet of classroom space. It will be LEED-certified and have all the bells and whistles one would expect of a brand-new gallery space.

Landlocked lighthouse, looking north.
Here's a more typical shot of the rest of the grounds. We got lucky; the grounds were stunningly beautiful with spring blossoms and growth, though the day was chilly.

One of the centerpieces of the entire museum is the ship Ticonderoga, used for passenger travel up and down and around Lake Champlain through the twentieth century. The museum itself is within just a few miles of the lake, and moving the enormous ship was an engineering triumph. Wandering the decks made me want to take a long steamship cruise - what a way to travel!

Still flying all her flags.
Another highlight of the Shelburne's collections is their textile space. In particular, I loved this way of displaying quilts: it is undoubtedly a bit tough on the fabric, but it really allows visitors to get up close and personal with the designs and the fabric. There were two banks of these panels, and quilts cycled through every two years: year 1 on the right, year 2 on the left.

The panels were enormous - queen bed sized - but moved easily, though I worried about their momentum once I had started moving them and cringed every time they banged even slightly.
A real highlight for me was their unbelievably extensive collection of carriages and wagons. From the jaw-droppingly luxurious to the everyday milk cart, from a Conestoga wagon to a racing sulky, they had it all. I could have spent hours and hours examining each and every piece of equipment - the Webbs' custom tack was incredible - but we only had so much time and the carriage barns were among the coldest buildings on site.
Just one angle of one floor of one barn. There can't have been fewer than 150 carriages and carts on display.
Later this summer, the Shelburne will be opening their summer blockbuster exhibition, "Wyeth Vertigo." I'm a big Wyeth fan - Andrew in particular - and I can't wait to go back to see this. It's got the very clever trope of focusing on the interesting points of view often found in Wyeth paintings, and it brings together three generations of the Wyeth family into one exhibition. The new director of the Shelburne, Tom Denenberg, comes from the Portland Museum of Art, so I'm sure bringing the Maine-based Wyeths to Vermont was right in his wheelhouse.

They're getting ready for the exhibition with this neat little garden, though, which will be planted (or has already been planted? I'm not much of a gardener, so I couldn't tell) with a floral design inspired by the use of color in one of Jamie Wyeth's paintings. The garden plot is right outside the gallery where the Wyeth exhibition will be housed. Great way to link the Shelburne's extensive outdoor space and the beauty of its surroundings with its inside art.

There's not much on the panel but it's titled: "The Shores of Monhegan: A Wyeth Inspired Garden at Webb Gallery." On the left is the planned garden layout; on the right is the inspiration painting, Jamie Wyeth's Asleep and Awake, Monhegan.
I'm glad I finally made it to the Shelburne; I loved many things that I haven't even mentioned here - the elaborately restored train cars, the folk art exhibit, the absolutely wonderful Alphabet of Sheep exhibit, the hat box collection (!), the equestrian bronzes in the Electra Web Memorial Building. There's still a lot left to see, too. It really lives up to the nickname "Smithsonian of New England."

No comments:

Post a Comment