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Saturday, April 21, 2018

Art and Architecture in Shelburne, Vermont

Chartered in 1763, Shelburne, Vermont has throughout its history been the center of a farming community.  It sits near the southern end of Lake Champlain, on its eastern shore near where the LaPlatte River empties into Shelburne Bay.  Although it is often considered a suburb of Burlington, nevertheless it has its own distinctive village character, with a culture and history that echoes the culture and history of much of New England.

The weather was sunny but chilly today, and we decided to use it by walking 2 miles from our campground, Shelburne Camping Area, through the village center, to the Shelburne Museum.  We always say that you never really know a place without "putting boots on the ground," and we thought this would be the best way to get to know the culture and history of this area.

The village center of Shelburne is picturesque, with shops and restaurants appealing to casual tourists.  We enjoyed poking through the local bookstore and eating lunch at Barkeaters, but it was the little things that gave us the most amusement, such as these rainbow-colored Adirondack chairs in the lawn of a local inn --

-- and this public art constructed from local fireplugs:

The Shelburne Museum was our primary goal.  It is a museum of art, design, and Americana. Over 150,000 works are exhibited in 39 exhibition buildings, 25 of which are historic and were relocated to the Museum grounds. It is located on 45 acres near Lake Champlain.  The museum was founded in 1947 by Electra Havemeyer Webb, an avid collector of American folk art and one of the first people to recognize the applied and decorative arts of rural America as collectible.

At the museum there are some 3,200 American prints, paintings, drawings and graphics that relate to daily life. American paintings include works by Bierstadt, Church, Mary Cassatt, Copley, Daubigny, Field, Heade, Hicks, Homer, Lane, Grandma Moses, Peto and Andrew Wyeth. A significant group of European paintings and pastels includes works by Corot, Degas, Manet and Claude Monet.

In addition to the more traditional artworks on display, the museum currently has two temporary exhibits.  One of the temporary exhibits is titled, "In the Garden," which features fine art, textiles, jewelry, and the bodies of actual insects, and explores the various ways flowers and bugs have captivated artists’ imaginations over the last five centuries.  We were particularly taken by this installation by Jennifer Angus (Madison, Wisconsin, born 1961-), titled, "Memento Vitae, Memento Mori," which Kathy admires in the photo below:

The artist explained her installation partly as follows:

"Upon the wall within frames covered by a deep dome are 
what I have come to think of as little worlds, almost like 
those that exist within a snow globe.  My delight in these 
stems from the opportunity to develop a story without words 
which others will interpret as they wish.  In most of the 
frames the insects appear to be standing on their hind legs, 
a position which to some degree anthropomorphizes them.  
Frankly, my goal in doing this is to make them more 
likable and relatable -- insects have families and jobs such 
as laborer, soldiers, etc.  There's even royalty to be found 
in the "Queen Bee."  The fear we have of insects is generally 
unwarranted.  Their role in the environment is vital.  They don't 
deserve a blast of "Raid" or a beating with a flyswatter."

A second work that intrigued us was this 19th Century trompe l'oeil painting on a bed footboard, which we swore was a three-dimensional sculpture:

The other temporary exhibit, "Puppets: World on a String," celebrates the wonder of puppets while investigating the ways that puppet theater mediates between worlds both real and imagined.  We knew the exhibit was going to be lots of fun when we were invited to pick up a Kemie puppet and make our own puppet play.  Pay no attention to the puppeteer behind the curtain!

While the art exhibits were powerful, we were excited and impressed with the 25 historic buildings that occupy the vast grounds.  We were disappointed that it was too early in the season to go into the buildings, but we really enjoyed exploring their architecture.

Our first building was a 19th Century sawmill, relocated from its original location nearby:

Another was the Dorset house:

One of the most dramatic was what Vermonters had called the "Big Bridge."  Built in 1845 in Theodore Burr's patented "arch truss" design, it originally spanned the Lamoille River in Cambridge, Vermont.  Here at the museum, it spans a man-made pond and had been the original entrance to the museum from the adjoining highway:

We found the view of Shelburne village from the bridge's pedestrian walkway to be particularly enchanting:

One of the historic buildings stands where it originally stood on this property.  Built in 1835, the building was originally known as the Weed House, but was renamed Variety Unit to reflect the wide range of decorative arts now exhibited there by the Museum.  The brick building at the right end in the photo below was the original farmhouse, but it was added onto repeatedly along a continuous line until it took its current, unusual form:

The Horseshoe Barn Annex appears historic, but was actually constructed by the Museum in 1957 to house selected vehicles.  It appears old because it was built from wood and other elements from other historical buildings:

This is a pretty view of the Charlotte Meeting House, built in 1840 by the Methodist Congregation of Charlotte, Vermont:

Pictured below is the Blacksmith Shop, a one-room brick structure built about 1800, which originally stood near the railroad tracks in the village of Shelburne.  While little is known of its early occupancy, records show that John Dubuc had established a blacksmith shop there by 1869. Following Dubuc, a succession of craftspeople occupied the building until it was abandoned in 1935 and was ultimately acquired by the Museum in 1955:

This Shelburne Railroad Station was built in 1890.  In 1953, when the Rutland Railroad discontinued passenger service to Shelburne, the owners gave the station to Shelburne Museum. The Museum moved the station to its present site in 1959 and renovated the building, restoring the interior to its original plan:

Two very diverting buildings on the property are the modern, operating carousel and the Round Barn, shown behind the carousel in this photo:

The carousel is a small, portable model built about 1920 by the Allan Herschell Company of North Tonawanda, New York. In 1883 herschell began producing carousels designed to endure hard wear and frequent travel. The horses were smaller and more compact than those made for permanent park carousels.  Heads and legs were tucked close to the bodies to minimize breakage and the machines could be easily taken apart, moved, and reassembled.  It sits in the front yard of the Circus Building, completed in 1965 to meet the requirements of exhibiting the 500-foot-long Roy Arnold miniature circus. Traversing the grand hallway of the large horseshoe-shaped, spruce and cedar structure gives the impression of walking through the entire concourse of a circus parade.

Fred “Silo” Quimbly constructed the Round Barn, a three-story building measuring eighty feet in diameter, in 1901 in East Passumpsic, Vermont. Round barns enjoyed a brief period of popularity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Shakers designed and built the first round barn in America in 1826 in Hancock, Massachusetts. The publication of the building’s plans in a nationally distributed farm journal in 1896, sparked the construction of approximately twenty-four comparable barns in Vermont beginning in 1899.

Certainly the most unusual structure on the grounds is the the steamboat Ticonderoga -- one of two remaining side-paddle-wheel passenger steamers with a vertical beam engine of the type that provided freight and passenger service on America's bays, lakes and rivers from the early 19th to the mid-20th centuries. Commissioned by the Champlain Transportation Company, Ticonderoga was built in 1906 at the Shelburne Shipyard in Shelburne, Vermont on Lake Champlain.

Initially, Ticonderoga served a north-south route on Lake Champlain. Daily, she docked at Westport, New York, where she met the New York City evening train. The next morning she carried travelers and freight northward to St. Albans, Vermont. In addition to passengers, Ticonderoga transported local farm produce, livestock, and dry goods on a regular basis, and during both world wars ferried U.S. troops between Plattsburgh, New York and Burlington, Vermont. Over the years she also operated on the east-west run from Burlington to Port Kent, New York and had a brief career as a floating casino.

When more modern ferries made her obsolete, Ticonderoga managed to persist in operation as an excursion boat for several years; however, by 1950 the steady decline in business threatened her future. Ralph Nading Hill saved Ticonderoga from the scrap heap when he persuaded Electra Havemeyer Webb to buy her for the Museum. While the Shelburne Museum attempted to keep her in operation, the steamboat era had passed, making it difficult to find qualified personnel to operate and maintain the aging vessel.

In 1954 the Shelburne Museum decided to move Ticonderoga overland to the museum grounds. At the end of the summer season the boat paddled into a newly dug, water-filled basin off Shelburne Bay and floated over a railroad carriage resting on specially laid tracks. The water was then pumped out of the basin, and Ticonderoga settled onto the railroad carriage. During the winter of 1955 Ticonderoga was hauled across highways, over a swamp, through woods and fields, and across the tracks of the Rutland Railway to reach her permanent mooring on the Shelburne Museum grounds.

Much of her interior was restored to its original grandeur. The dining room and stateroom halls retain their butternut and cherry paneling and ceilings their gold stenciling. The barbershop, captain's quarters, dining room, and promenade deck contain furniture and accessories used in the Ticonderoga and other Lake Champlain steamboats.

Ticonderoga was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1964 under the name Ticonderoga (Side-paddle-wheel Lakeboat).

You can see an old-timey style video showing details of the Ticonderoga here.

Last but not least, we explored the Colchester Reef Lighthouse, built in 1869. It was originally located off Colchester Point (northwest of Burlington) in Lake Champlain and was moved to the Museum in 1956.  It was one of a group of New England lighthouses built to the same plan. Nearly identical lighthouses were constructed in Rhode Island.

In the mid-nineteenth century, due in large part to the booming lumber business, which relied on easy shipping of raw timber from Canada to planing mills in western Vermont, commerce on Lake Champlain significantly increased. To protect ships in potentially hazardous waterways, the Lighthouse Service held a national competition for lighthouse designs, and Albert R. Dow, a Burlington native from the University of Vermont, won the commission. Because the lighthouse needed to endure the lake’s strong winds and heavy winter ice-floes, Dow pegged and bolted together the lighthouse’s twenty-five-foot square stone foundation, post-and-beam frame and tower, and slate and tin roof. Dow then secured the entire building with one and a half inch thick iron rods to assure its stability. A sixth order Fresnel lens exhibited a fixed red light beginning in 1871.

The lighthouse served as both the home and workplace of eleven successive keepers and their families. The exposed location and northerly climate meant that ice figured heavily in incidents involving the lighthouse. In one instance, the keeper's wife went into labor in January 1888. Summoned by the fog bell, the doctor and his assistant attempted to cross the ice, but were blown north when it broke up, eventually landing safely at South Hero Island (also known as Grand Isle), four miles to the north. The baby was safely born with the father assisting alone.

Relieved that the newborn baby and its mother were doing fine, we decided it was time to begin our return 2-mile walk back to our campground.  We still had lots of chores to do before we slept.

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