Several new Shelburne Museum acquisitions linked to founder

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(Host) Shelburne Museum’s staff is looking forward to this summer’s season, when it will unveil some art acquisitions with direct links to the museum’s founder.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd got an advance look.

(Sound of unpacking)

(Sneyd) Across the street from the museum, some precious new artifacts are kept wrapped and protected this time of the year.

But Museum Director Stephan Jost is eager to show them off as a sneak preview of what’s to come this summer.

(Jost) “This piece here, which is a looking glass, which is also known as a mirror, was recently given to the museum.”

(Sneyd) But this is the Shelburne Museum, so this isn’t just any mirror. This is part history, part artwork.

It’s an ornate, carved and gold-gilded mahogany sculpture, topped by a phoenix. It was made in 1794 by William Wilmerding and it’s in the style of Thomas Chippendale, the famed furniture-maker to British royalty.

(Jost) “It’s Americans aspiring to be a world power.”

(Sneyd) Jost says the looking glass is an important addition to Shelburne’s collections because it’s in mint condition, and its history is documented.

And, it came from a family that was related, through marriage, to museum founder Electra Havemeyer Webb.

The museum is always on the lookout for anything related to the founder and it often gets donations at the end of the year. It’s now documenting those it was given in 2007.

Two more acquisitions also have direct ties to her family. An exquisite quilt, dating to the 1830s or 1840s, was a gift of Electra Havemeyer Webb to a local girl, related to her family. The girl’s descendants have now given it to the museum.

And a unique inkwell will be part of a refurbished exhibit – the Beech Lodge – honoring the great 19th century Adirondack “camps.” The silver inkwell is housed in the top of a deer’s hoof.

Jost says the history of this piece is stamped directly into it.

(Jost) “And so we’ve got not only the deer hoof, but we’ve got the pen here signed JWW, James Watson Webb, Alaska, 1931.”

(Sneyd) Jost is excited by these pieces and their relation to Electra Havemeyer Webb. But he’s even more enthusiastic about a painting that’s already hanging in the Webb Gallery, waiting for summer.

(Jost) “This is a painting that’s probably the most significant American painting given to the Shelburne Museum probably in the last decade. It’s a beautiful oil painting by an artist named Francis Augusta Silva.”

(Sneyd) Silva was part of the second generation of the Hudson River school of painting.

The Shelburne’s new painting depicts a beautiful sunset over the ocean. The scene is dominated by a sailboat leaning into the wind, with a fishing dory in the foreground, bobbing on the windswept sea.

Jost says the Silva painting will have a prominent position in the Webb Gallery when the museum opens for its season in May. At the same time, an exhibition of Mary Cassat paintings will open.

And Cassat also had a relationship to the museum’s founder. Cassat was a close personal friend of Electra Havemeyer Webb’s mother.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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