Electra Havemeyer Webb

Electra Havemeyer Webb

Electra was an eclectic woman.

We learned about Electra on our recent vacation to Vermont and a full day  (we arrived at 10 a.m. and left when it closed at 5 p.m.and still didn’t see it all) spent touring the Shelburne Museum grounds (40 acres) outside of Burlington.  Electra, the shining third daughter of the sugar king (Domino Sugar), Henry Havemeyer,  was born in 1888 and immediately started collecting dolls then moved on to paintings and then onto three-dimensional art (to the horror of her mother) including a 50-year odyssey of collecting American folk art.  She said she wanted to collect something that nobody else was collecting and boy, did she.  In her collection at Shelburne is a vast array of American folk sculpture — my own guilty pleasure as well If I could afford it.  She filled a tennis court building with cigar store figures, weather vanes and ship figureheads. When you are rich it is called collecting, when you are poor it is called hoarding.  It was called her “period of mass acquisition” by her family and friends. Electra started the museum in 1947 with consultation from the curator from Colonial Williamsburg.  She went about bringing abandoned buildings from elsewhere in New England to her property in Shelburne including a ship called the Ticonderoga in 1953. She hired engineers to move the massive steamboat over two miles of land to the current berth on the grounds of the museum.  In addition to collecting, she married a handsome polo player and they raised four children together.

Check out this clip for a good overview of the museum.


painting of Electra
That is Electra and her mother painted by Mary Cassatt that hung in the New York apartment.

The gardens are equally magnificent.  On our recent visit, the apple trees were loaded with fruit and their sharp, clean aroma followed us around all day adding to the experience. She grew McIntosh, Fugi, Gala, Cortland and Mcoun.

Don’t miss:

The Circus Building  —  a fanciful horseshoe-shaped structure designed to showcase the hand-carved miniature Arnold Circus Parade, which stretches nearly the full length of the building’s 518 feet. At the entrance is another remarkable display: the intricate, 3,500-piece miniature three-ring Kirk Bros. Circus.

The rare 80-foot-diameter Round Barn  — one of only two dozen built in the state – was constructed in East Passumpsic, Vermont in 1901. Round barns, designed for economy of labor, were first built by Massachusetts Shakers in 1826 and re-introduced by a national farm magazine in 1896.The Round Barn was moved to the Museum in 1985-86. The 9,000-pound upper segment of the silo was flown across the state by helicopter, while the remainder was dismantled and moved on flatbed trucks.

My absolute favorite was found in the Variety Unit!  The galleries house pewter, scrimshaw, glass, Staffordshire, mocha ware, Toby jugs, trivets, food molds, dolls, dollhouses, and automata. Variety Unit, so named because of the eclectic range of collections it exhibits. Variety Unit was built as a brick farmhouse about 1835 in Shelburne and is the only structure original to the Museum site.

weather vane

The only disappointment was the gift shop.  The only item I purchased was the book, To Collect In Earnest, a quick read about the life and work of Electra.  The rest of the items were so unimaginative compared to the museum collection that it left me wanting.  Ok, so I coveted.  But, I was also inspired creatively which is what vacations are all about.


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