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Friday, May 20, 2011

The Art of Collecting Collections


A signature feature of the Shelburne Museum in Vermont is a round barn.

By EDWARD ROTHSTEIN

NEW YORK TIMES

May 19, 2011

SHELBURNE, Vt. — There is a mystery about the Shelburne Museum. And you could easily spend a day here, just south of Burlington, walking around its 45 acres, amazed, awed and amused, and still not figure it out. During these opening weeks of its half-year season, it might seem to resemble an eccentric botanical garden. More than 400 lilac bushes in 90 varieties are scattered over the grounds. The setting is pure Vermont Pastoral. Even during a recent day of spring rain and splashing mud, the red-painted wood of one of the state’s few surviving round barns looked almost radiant. Is this a farm museum perhaps? With garden tours? Or is it the home of a local historical society?
Not even close. Over a hill you can make out a black smokestack belonging to an early-20th-century steamship that once toured Lake Champlain, dry-docked on the lawn. Nearby is a decommissioned 19th-century lighthouse with no navigational purpose. Atop a hill, a Greek Revival manse sits with calm authority. There are a one-room school house, a covered bridge, an apothecary, a restored carousel.


Caleb Kenna for The New York Times

A 3,500-piece miniature three-ring circus carved out of wood by Edgar Decker Kirk.
A historical village, then? A Disneyesque New England fantasyland? Whatever this museum collects, it must surely include buildings; there are 39 of them, and 25 were moved from other places. But walk into any of them, and the act of collecting, you see, goes far beyond imagining.
Some of the collections are just mounted for this season by the senior curator, Jean Burks, and her colleagues: more than 100 Vermont firearms going back to 1790; Belle Époque fashions, with some partial outfits completed by contemporary design students; an exhibition of new and historic quilts; and artworks made out of cut, folded, rolled and processed paper.
Other collections have been here for decades. Inside a barn shaped like a semicircular ribbon, you come upon a 3,500-piece three-ring circus, with a brass band, a tiger cage and acrobats performing before an arena of spectators. But the figures are just inches tall, carved out of wood with a penknife and a jigsaw by Edgar Decker Kirk. Along the curved walls, glass cases display a 500-foot-long circus parade, with 4,000 miniature figures carved by another craftsman, Roy Arnold. read more at:http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/20/arts/design/shelburne-museum-in-vermont.html?_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss

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