Four Seasons at Shelburne

from The Magazine ANTIQUES, July/August 2013 |

IN HER FIRST ANNUAL REPORT, in 1948, Electra Havemeyer Webb, founder of Shelburne Museum, expressed her desire for "a building or adequate space in one for educational programs and loaned exhibits." The new Pizzagalli Center for Art and Education, which will hold exhibitions, lectures, films, concerts, and workshops, even during the challenging months of Vermont weather, is the realization of her dream. Webb's vision was bold and creative and Shelburne has been blessed with curators and directors who have appreciated her daring and added their own. The new building is one more example of that.

The Pizzagalli Center for Art and Education is Shelburne Muse­um's first year-round facility for exhibitions and public programs. Opening August 18, the Pizzagalli Center includes five thousand square feet of galleries, an auditorium, and a classroom. The LEED-certified building is designed by Ann Beha Architects of Boston.  

The center will serve as both a gallery space for temporary exhibitions, drawn from Shelburne's diverse holdings as well as borrowed materials from other organizations and collectors, on a variety of topics. Shelburne enthusiasts usually think of the museum as a trove of folk and decora­tive arts, but Mrs. Webb also acquired fine American and European paintings. The new building will make it pos­sible for the public to see the work of Martin Johnson Heade, Winslow Homer, Thomas Cole, Fitz Henry Lane, Mary Cassatt, and others. Again, Mrs. Webb, who was reluctant to make distinctions between high and low art, would surely be delighted.

The best way for Shelburne to celebrate the spirit of its mission as it embarks on this new phase in its history is to honor the inspiration of its founder. The inaugural exhibition at the Pizzagalli Center, Color, Pattern, Whimsy, Scale: The Best of Shelburne Museum, draws from among the 150,000 objects housed in the museum's thirty-nine buildings. The essays that follow are part of the staff's tribute to the vision of Electra Havemeyer Webb. There is a lot of joy at Shelburne.

--The Editors


Color, Pattern, Whimsy, Scale

By Jean M. Burks

Challenged to describe the unique museum she had created, Electra Havemeyer Webb (1888-1960) used the phrase "a collection of collections."1 Daughter of Gilded Age connoisseurs Henry Osborne (1847-1907) and Louisine Elder Havemeyer (1855-1929), Electra grew up in an extraordinary New York mansion on East Sixty-Sixth Street and Fifth Avenue decorated between 1890 and 1892 by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Samuel Col­man-artists with highly developed aesthetic tastes. The furnishings reflected her father's enthusiasm for Asian objects, his interest in early Middle Eastern and European glass and ceramics, and his apprecia­tion for old master paintings, along with her mother's passion for the emerging work of the French impressionists (see Fig. 4). The colors and textures, the diverse materials, and the myriad patterns all contributed to the connoisseurship skills and per­sonal approach that Electra Webb would bring to the works she would acquire as an adult.

Electra Webb's appetite for antiques was voracious, and she filled every possible space in her three house­holds in Westbury, Long Island, New York City, and Shelburne, Vermont. "The rooms were over-furnished... then the closets and the attics were filled. I just couldn't let good pieces go by-china, porcelain, pottery, pewter, glass, dolls, quilts, cigar store Indians, eagles, folk art. They all seemed to appeal to me."2

In 1947 Electra Webb realized her dream of creating a museum where she could share her collections with the public. The 150,000 fine, folk, and decorative arts objects displayed in historic houses, trade shops, and gallery spaces at Shelburne reveal her fascination with color, pattern, whimsy, and scale-characteristics that, in­dividually and together, define her unspoken aes­thetic. The following four articles describe Mrs. Webb's idiosyncratic, intuitive, and imaginative taste and feature both well-known masterworks and surprising treasures at the Shelburne Museum.                    

[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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