The Shelburne Museum in Shelburne Vermont resists comparison. The eclectic creation of Electra Havemeyer Webb, it is like no other.
Like the Barnes in Philadelphia, it includes a splendid collection of Impressionist art. But it also owns Rembrandts, American paintings, folk art, quilts and rugs.
Like Williamsburg, it includes themed buildings — a jail, print shop, weavery, lighthouse, schoolroom, etc. — but it spans a broader period, from the 17th-20th centuries.
Like the Long Island Museum, it has a large collection of horse drawn vehicles, but it also displays many horse drawn sleighs. And it has a unique collection of carousel horses and also miniature circus vehicles drawn by animals.
Like Filoli, it boasts many formal gardens, but also kitchen gardens, a sensory garden, a hat and fragrance garden. There are over 700 peonies and 400 lilacs!
Like the Mercer, it has an almost bewildering array of collections, many with replicate pieces. But the Shelburne’s collections are all clean, restored in most cases, and well-displayed.
Unlike most modern museums, the Shelburne has a story to tell but no theses to defend. The curating is unobtrusive and pertinent. Neither the curating nor the many docents — every exhibit or building has at least one — talk down to visitors.
In short, the Shelburne Museum is unique.
Some of my favorites:
The Ticonderoga, a restored paddle-wheel steam boat. Electra moved it intact from Lake Champlain at a cost of $250,000 in 1955.
- The Round Barn, which displays restored horse-drawn carriages and sleighs. (More in the Horseshoe Barn.)
- The Electra Havemeyer Webb Memorial Building. It contains several complete rooms from her NYC apartment including Rembrandts, Monets, Degas.
- The working 1920’s carousel outside the Circus building is a great ride. But no brass ring!
- The 1890 luxury private rail car, the Grand Isle. Hitched to steam Locomotive 220. All at the complete 1890 Shelburne railroad station. All aboard!
- Exquisite American furniture and decorative arts in the Vermont House circa 1790.
- Folk art, trade signs, ship carvings and more at the circa 1787 Stagecoach Inn.
Leave plenty of time for the Shelburne. We visited for about 10 hours over 3 days and still have a wish list for next time.
Photos Copyright© Louis J. Bruno, 2014. All rights reserved.