Honoring Folk Art: The Shelburne Museum

IMG_1622If you love that which is handmade, homemade, made with love, you are probably drawn to collections of folk art.  There are lots of people, however, who turn their noses up at items made by untrained makers and at “craft,” in general.

The wealthy parents of Electra Havemeyer Webb were just those kinds of people. They collected “real” art of Europe and Asia and brought their daughter up to appreciate the best of the best.

Electra Havemeyer Webb

Electra Havemeyer Webb

But what Electra thought was best didn’t follow her parents’ tastes. Electra was drawn to art in unusual places. In the early 1900s, this pioneer collected American quilts and samplers. Figureheads of ships. Decoys and advertising art. And historic New England structures that she had brought to the museum she founded, the Shelburne Museum.

This fine museum of folk art and Americana is the Shelburne Museum, located just south of Burlington, Vermont.

The museum is made up of the 18th and 19th century buildings that Electra found and had moved to the museum grounds. These buildings, as well as more traditional galleries, serve as home to the thousands of items in the collection.

Today, at the Shelburne Museum “impressionist paintings, folk art, quilts and textiles, decorative arts, furniture, American paintings, and a dazzling array of 17th-to 20th-century artifacts are on view.”

If you visit New England, and there are dozens of excellent reasons to do so, treat yourself to a visit to Shelburne Museum. Go in the summer or fall, when the whole museum is open and you can wander the campus and spend time. You’ll be amazed at the art you see there, both old and new:

Folk Art

The buildings themselves are beautiful examples of craftsmanship and the range of folk art is stunning.


The museum has more than 400 early quilts, as well as hooked rugs, coverlets and samplers.

This current exhibit features the work of John Bisbee, a Maine artist who makes all of his work with nothing but 12-inch nails!

The other current exhibit combines old glass from the museum collection with newer pieces by contemporary artists.

39 thoughts on “Honoring Folk Art: The Shelburne Museum

  1. I’ve always wanted to visit the Shelburne – we drove by once, when the kids were little and we were on the way to Somewhere Else, but have never been back…and those kids are all grown, now…
    Thanks for the Virtual Visit – maybe we can get up there in the summer!

  2. The buildings alone look like they’re worth a visit! And the nailart looks amazing. I once went to an exhibition that had statues made out of iron clotheshangers, very cool and impressive. Thanks for sharing! I love to see museums across the world 🙂

    • The buildings really are worth the trip–they have a covered bridge, an old lighthouse where the keeper lived out in the sea, a church, a one-room schoolhouse, etc., etc. The museum represents this region of the US perfectly.

    • They are nails–12 inch spikes. That is the only thing he uses in all his work! It was a really great exhibit but, then, everything is lovely at Shelburne!

    • Folk art is one of those things some people just don’t “get.” With your love of Frida Kahlo, I’m not surprised to hear you like it–her work seems very influenced by folk.

  3. I so love this post! I subscribe to lots of American magazines and have a love for Tramp and Folk Art. But the coverlets you featured took me by surprise. I have a collection of Welsh blankets and they are almost identical to those in your photos. It is amazing how many little threads exist which weave and bind us together, even across continents. -Karen.

    • Well, a lot of early Americans came from the British Isles and I know some of our music is definitely influenced by Scots-Irish traditions so it makes sense the fiber arts would be, too. But, you’re right, it is very moving to recognize the connections in such tangible ways!

  4. Pingback: All Star Quilts at Shelburne Museum | Love Those "Hands at Home"

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