Friday, July 4, 2014

Going fourth...

It's a rainy, cool July 4th morning here in Brattleboro. I used to really love July the 4ths. Until recent years, that is. A few years ago I had a job running a video store. It was a lot of work, but it was work that I more or less enjoyed, or to be more precise work I didn't mind all that much. I wasn't all that fond of the 12 to 15 hour days, and I recall a minor celebration when I actually got two days off one month. What I very much minded was not being fairly or properly paid, the promised raises that never arrived, etc. I quit that job on a July the 4th the owner made me work - it was going to be my first day off in two months. That impulsive action nearly destroyed my life; I was out of work for a long time. When I found work it was as a cashier in a supermarket where I was required to work on holidays, where I think I got one July the 4th off in five years. That company would schedule people to work for four hours on the fourth. I guess that had some kind of poetic ring to the Belgian corporation which owned the place. Three generations of my family had fought in the American Revolution; the day once held some meaning to me.

Thankfully, the rain this morning isn't another crazy thunderstorm. I like such storms, I like the call and response of streaks of lightning and replying thunder, the sound of the deluge of water cascading off the roof. Unfortunately, my vegetable garden is in a slightly flat depression partway down a hill, which puts it right in the path of rampaging runoff. It's a small veggie planting this year, but twice in the last week storm waters created havoc. (It has been several years since this last occurred.) Yesterday morning I spent a couple of hours fixing up the damage from the second storm. Last night there was another downpour. The rain will keep me out of the garden today, as will work on my radio show tomorrow. I must admit a certain nervousness regarding what I shall find when I get there on Sunday. I distract myself looking for July the 4th images to post from the mass media factories of America, trying not to think of the garden situation as a metaphor. 

Arlene Judge

Ava Gardner

Elizabeth Taylor

My thoughts turn to Americana. This past Monday, I became joyfully immersed in it. I talked a friend into driving two and a half hours upstate to the Shelburne Museum. It is not your everyday day museum. It was created by Electra Havemeyer Webb. Her parents, Louisine Elder and Henery Osborne Hevemeyer were wealthy. Very wealthy. Miss Electra Haveremeyer married Mr. James Watson Webb, a Vandebilt. They were very, very wealthy together.

Louisine and H.O. collected art. Louisine was touring the continent when she became friends with Mary Cassatt, who introduced her to a group of young unappreicateds who would soon be known as Impressionists. The Havemeyers became the first Americans purchasing their work. Most of the collection they acquired was left to New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art, where their bequest became the foundation of the Impressionist wing. Some of the paintings, however, were left to Electra. They used to adorn the walls of the Havemeyer-Webb apartment at 740 Park Avenue. (If an apartment there becomes available, it is said that you must show a minimum worth of  one hundred million dollars before the cooperative will even talk to you.)

Electra and Louisine Havemeyer by Mary Cassatt

Mrs. Webb was 19 when she began to collect Americana. She loved the large summer estate the family had near Burlington, Vermont, and decided to turn part of it into a museum for her collections. That kind of space was needed. When the last surviving steamship on Lake Champlain went out of business, she bought it and had it moved to the estate. It sits near a lighthouse she purchased. She showed interesting attention to detail - the estate has many wonderful gardens; the plantings by the lighthouse are the kind of rugosa roses one finds at the sea shore near lighthouses (they have an ability to withstand salt air).

The Ticonderoga is the only surviving vertical beam sidewheel steamship.
It is 200 feet long, and weighs 892 tons.
Just past the steamship were these trees - neither my friend (a college professor) nor myself have any idea what they are - please let me know if you do:
Blogger has suddenly decided that I shouldn't use the "caption" function - if I try, it deletes the picture. So... just a few steps further and one finds this giant chair:
(And, in case you are wondering, yes, that is your correspondent taking a break and sitting down.)
Mrs. Webb saved one local old Shelburne building from demolition, moved it to the estate, and reused it for her collection of the contents of a circa 1840's General Store, Post Office, Barber Shop and Apothecary. (There is a similar era dentist office on the second floor.) She occasionally bought the collections of others. Next to the barber shop is a room with over 300 straight razors, the collection of a wealthy lawyer.  I didn't take any pictures of the store (I was often too overwhelmed to think of it) but I did take a few in the apothecary.
When I commented on the placement of a couple of objects amusingly displayed in the store, the docent noted that they were "right where Mrs. Webb put them".
She also saved a local meeting house and had it moved to the grounds. It houses a collection of Vermont music.
She had a small pond installed next to the meeting house:
Elsewhere on the property are an old train station (with a 10 wheel steam locomotive), a carousel, a sawmill, a covered bridge, collections of carriages, Conestoga wagons, stagecoaches, hand carved circus miniatures, a jailhouse, textiles (a huge quilt collection), weathervanes, hunting decoys, an  1840's smokehouse, a Shaker shed, a round barn, a worker's stone cottage, and much, much more.

On the property, as a tribute to Mrs. Webb, the family built a reproduction of a fairly un-Vermont Greek Revival Vermont building she admired. In it they put five intact rooms from the Park Avenue digs. The rooms are stunning. The library, for instance, utilized dark wood moldings and black leather wallpaper. (I think I swooned at that point.) Throughout the rooms are the paintings Mrs. Webb's parents left her. Two Rembrandts, Corot, I think there was an El Greco, etc. In a basement room are bronze sculptures by many artists including Degas and Frederick Remington. A number of painting are not in the apartments at present - and therein lies the reason for this trip.

A new building on the estate currently has a temporary museum styled exhibition of the Impressionist holdings, punningly titled "In a New Light". Five or six Monets, several Manets, Degas, Corot, Cassatt. Even the doorway to the exhibit held promise (the Monet which was the source for this image in on display):

The first thing visible upon entering was Monet's "Le Pont, Amersterdam". Just to its left and several feet back was a large photograph of the actual scene. It was very interesting to note that Monet moved buildings and objects a bit to paint what he saw.

One Monet in particular haunts me, not quite to the point of obsession. The reproduction of it does not catch the colors at all. What appears here as a sort of reddish haze was actually sort of, well, not quite chartreuse, not yellow, but definitely early morning light through fog. I think the problem may be that this "Church at Vernon through fog" (near his home at Giverny) is a view Monet painted many times. I wonder if the online reproductions of the painting owned by Mrs. Webb is the same as the one on exhibit.

Blogger and my photo program are both acting up, which may be a last gasp of Mercury retrograde, or the electronics' method of telling me this post is too long, or contains too many graphics, so to rush to a finish...

The Cassatt at the beginning of this essay is also on display, along with several other pieces which I recognized from books, and a few I'd never seen before. I must post this one more, simply because its colors were so stunning, a Degas (what was it with Degas and ballerinas anyway? Maybe he just wanted to try on a tutu?) :

The exhibit was clever, stunningly beautiful, and the works are still in my mind's eye four days later. There was so much to see...

I must go back there soon.


Anonymous said...

Something only vast amounts of money could accomplish....if you go again be sure to share with us....what a beautiful place.

Geo. said...

A delightful tour! Thanks! Re: unidentified trees beside barn. They look like big privets to me, maybe Ligustrum japonicum --but I can't tell what the exact shape of leaves and blossoms are.

sdt (a.k.a. stevil) said...

Delores - I really do hope to go again, there is so much to see there. One of the problems I have with such vast amounts of money is that I don't have any.

sdt (a.k.a. stevil) said...

Geo - I think you may have hit the proverbial nail on the head. I have another photo or two of those trees, but sadly I can't put a photo here in the comments section, so I guess I'll just have to post it. Thank You!