This weekend, I fell in love. I fell in love with The Shelburne Museum, another Vermont gem that I had never taken the time to visit until now, but, more importantly, I fell in love with the woman who created the museum, Electra Havemeyer Webb (1888-1960). Electra grew up, in a NYC mansion on Fifth Avenue, surrounded by priceless works of art, many by the French Impressionists, she traveled the world with her wealthy parents who collected treasures from Europe and the Orient. Imagine her mother’s chagrin when at age 19, Electra purchased her first piece of artwork, a wooden Indian from outside a cigar store in Connecticut. ” I wanted to collect something that nobody else was collecting,” Electra explained.
Electra was a true non-conformist, while her peers were establishing those huge marble summer homes in Newport, RI, Electra and her husband chose to summer in Vermont, where his family lived. She hunted bear and caribou, travelled to Alaska and the Canadian Rockies, often the only woman on the expeditions. In WWI, she volunteered to drive an ambulance in NYC. Nutsy, gutsy, fun loving and intelligent, Electra was passionate about everything she did.
When her collections threatened to take over her homes in Vt. and NY, Electra combined them with a collection of wagons , carriages and sleighs belonging to her husbands family , purchased a small piece of land in Vt, and began collecting buildings. The Shelburne Museum was born. She collected a railroad station, a covered bridge, a lighthouse, general store and one room schoolhouse. Perhaps most impressive, the steamship, Ticonderoga, is now happily docked on the lawn at Shelburne. Talk about re-cycling!
Truthfully, this woman has captured my imagination, she easily travelled among the crowned heads of Europe and the farmers, carpenters and blacksmiths of Vermont. She respected the work of ordinary people and saw their creations as extraordinary works of art. Electra did what made her happy. She defied convention and created a living monument to American Creativity.Don’t miss the Shelburne when you’re in Vermont.