Shelburne Museum is shifting its focus

The Associated Press

It is nearly impossible to see all the 150,000 pieces of folk art, artifacts and Americana at Shelburne Museum in one visit.

Visitors can wander through the old New England homes, barns and buildings and view American folk art, decoys, impressionist paintings, quilts and furniture. They can inspect a 4,000-piece miniature circus parade carved out of wood that winds through one building or 225 carriages and horse-drawn vehicles on display in other buildings.

This summer there’s even more to see.

A show of American painter Georgia O’Keeffe’s work is on view through Oct. 31. It’s the first of its kind for the museum. “It’s a major loan exhibit,” said museum spokesman Sam Ankerson.


The works of Vermont children’s book illustrator Tasha Tudor, whose life and art resembles life in rural New England in the 1830s, are on display. And the museum’s latest departure -- a modern furniture show -- features Knoll furniture designed by Frank Gehry and other masters.

The furniture show marks the beginning of a transformation for the museum.

“We’re shifting from a historic tourist site to a museum of art and design,” said Stephan Jost, the museum’s new director.

The museum was founded by Electra Havemeyer Webb, daughter of art collectors, in 1947. She not only acquired 19th century folk art, quilts and decoys, but she moved historic buildings from Vermont and New York -- a one-room schoolhouse, homes, a round barn, a covered bridge and a steamship -- to the site to house her collections.


An unexpected gem is the impressionist collection -- paintings by Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas -- hanging on the walls of a replica building of the Webbs’ 1930s Park Avenue apartment in New York City.

The 150,000 pieces in the exhibits still have a place. How they are displayed may change. “We will reinterpret them,” Jost said.

He wants visitors to make connections between early America and today and between New England and the world.

“People like to make these associations between the patterns of a quilt and some mechanized thing,” he said.


Jost, 37, director of Mills College Art Museum in Oakland before coming to Vermont, wants to prevent visitors from feeling overwhelmed by so much to see. He has suggested putting in cafes with food and coffee where people can rest and take in some caffeine.

The museum is open from May to October and draws between 100,000 and 120,000 visitors a year.