An Ongoing Study of the Shelburne Museum by the Students of Saint Michaels College
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The Electra Havemeyer Webb Memorial Building   

The Influences Behind the Shelburne Museum

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The Electra Havmeyer Webb Memorial Building

Electra Havemeyer Webb

Louisine Elder Havemeyer

Mary Cassatt

Harry Havmeyer

J. Watson Webb

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"The greatest influence in my life was the example of my wonderful parents, Louisine and Henry O. Havemeyer. In my opinion they stood for everything fine and worthwhile in life. They were both great collectors, maybe the greatest pair of all times, certainly the most diversified collectors. They were both born collectors and seemed to love each and every time they bought. They lived in an age when no one thought of anything American as art so they collected entirely European art."

     "Notes By Electra Havemeyer on 'What Started me With the Museum'" 
                                                                         Electra Havemeyer Webb
                                                                                                         1952

Electra Havemeyer
Photo: The Havemeyers: Impressionism Comes to America

Electra Havemeyer Webb (1888-1960) was born to Louisine Elder Havemeyer and Henry O. Havemeyer. Both parents came from wealthy families and offered Electra an amazing childhood. Electra had the cheerful and ambitious attitude of her mother but all her father's interests. Electra had different relationships with her parents. She favored her father and battled with her mother constantly, though she only had positive things to say in her notes. She had two siblings-- sister  Adeline and brother Horace. They primarily grew up in Manhattan but also frequented family properties in Connecticut and the Adirondacks. Electra grew up among the wealthiest of  social groups, lived in houses filled with millions of dollars in significant artwork collected by her parents, and fit the part naturally.


                 Electra Havemeyer (right)
Photo: The Havemeyers: Impressionism Comes to America

Electra bought her first "piece of art" at the age of eighteen  in 1908. It was a cigar-store Indian costing twenty-five dollars. This purchase reflects the unconventional taste of her father and the influence of  family vacations touring the U.S. Her mother Louisine surely disregarded the item. Louisine would not have classified the wooden figure as a piece of art -- her first purchase was a Degas painting.

Electra Havemeyer Webb married James Watson Webb in 1910. Their courtship began in 1905 when Electra frequented wealthy socialite parties at James' family mansion in Shelburne, Vermont. She fell in love with both James and Vermont. After their marriage, James and Electra were given a large portion of the Webb family land in Shelburne, Vermont ("Notes By Electra Havemeyer...) but also bought property in Connecticut, long Island, and in New York City where they raised five children. Electra decorated the homes with Americana items until she could purchase no more that would fit in her home. "The rooms were over-furnished, and the same applied to the brick house at Shelburne. I just couldn't let a good piece go by."("Notes By Electra Havemeyer...)

When James Watson Webb retired, the couple resided primarily in Vermont where Electra began to realize an ambition she had: to share her collections with the public. The property of Shelburne Farms owned by the Webbs expanded across several thousands of acres including the first private golf course in the states (The Proud Possessors.) Electra sectioned off part of the  farmland and began her project of assembling the Shelburne Museum.

The Shelburne Museum was actualized after James Watson inherited a huge collection of carriages from his late father and mother (The Creation of the Havemeyer Collection.) Electra and James had no initial intention for the collection and Electra suggested construction of a building housing the carriages  for public display. Electra's aspiration of sharing her eclectic collection evolved from the idea of displaying the carriages, and so the Shelburne museum was created.

Electra wrote for the inaugural for the museum in 1952:

            "The Shelburne Museum was organized in 1947 under the laws of the state of Vermont as an exclusively charitable, educational and non-profit membership corporation. It is located in Shelburne, Vermont on the west side of route 7.
             The museum includes a collection of old buildings and structures, selected for their beauty and historical interest. These buildings are being moved and restored as nearly as possible to their original condition. Some will be furnished and decorated in keeping with their period and history; others will house antiques collected during the past forty years by Mr. and Mrs. J. Watson Webb. Almost all of these antiques are American and include folk art, carriages, sleighs, pewter, furniture, dolls houses, toys, needlework, farm implements, early wrought iron kitchen and other utensils, etc.
            It is hoped when the museum is completed that besides giving pleasure to the public, it will become an educational and cultural center in Vermont and inspire further interest in our American Heritage."

(
"Notes By Electra Havemeyer...)

The museum was organized by a series of buildings across the Shelburne property. Another addition was added after Electra's death in 1960, The Electra Havemeyer Webb building, in memory of Electra. Her desire was for a building on the museum grounds to house the collection in her parents' Manhattan apartment, and thus it is a dedication to Mr. and Mrs. Havemeyer, as Electra stated, "the greatest influence" for the Shelburne Museum.

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