History and Mystery: A Baby Named John

baby cupWho was baby John?

All we know for certain about the baby is that he was a boy, born long ago.

Born in 1916, he’s probably left this world by now. But we can guess he was a valued addition to his family, enough so that someone commemorated his birth with a simple and beautiful baby cup, engraved to honor that special boy and year.

What was his life like? The bottom edge of the cup shows little dents and dings—was he a rambunctious boy, who beat his cup against his highchair and laughed when the cat ran away, startled?

Was he born in upstate New York? His baby cup turned up at a garage sale here. Were his parents farmers like so many in this rural area? Did he grow up drinking milk from the family Holsteins and gathering eggs from disgruntled hens? Were his days spent rambling the fields and finding his way home, at dusk, in time for the evening chores?

Was his dad, perhaps, away in the Great War when he was born? Did John himself take up arms in the next war? He’d have been the right age. Did he make it home?

Did he go to school past 8th grade? Did he find love? Was there a son, also named John, who played with the silver cup? Or did the cup sit at the back of a china cabinet, forgotten?

Who puts a baby cup in a garage sale? Maybe John’s children’s children’s children, none of whom remembered him, except as the occupant of an old picture frame, and who had little use for a bibelot, so pretty but prone to tarnish and dust?

A small object like this baby cup, so evocative, so full of secrets, so eloquent in its silent silver glow.

My fond hope is that someone will buy this little treasure, to give to another baby named John, maybe one born in 2016, one hundred years after that other baby was born. I’d like to see this little cup polished and set out, reflecting the sun and another child’s smile.

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.