Posted by: jeannineatkins | September 27, 2010

Wonderful Shelburne, Vermont

Peter and I walked beside Lake Champlain and stayed at the Shelburne Farms Inn , a family estate from the Gilded Age which was handed down to a generation of five Webb descendents who wanted the buildings and land enjoyed by the public, and where today lots of education in land preservation and local farming is done. And guests at the inn are pampered. Breakfasts were a pleasure: the eggs can’t be much fresher, the toast is made with organically grown wheat, and berry jam is homemade. The stunning lake didn’t come out well in this picture of a spot where I wrote. Believe me, it was blue.

A short drive away, we toured the massive Americana collections of Electra Havermeyer Webb, who married into the family that owned the inn, at the nearby Shelburne Museum Electra’s mother was a friend of Mary Cassatt, who painted this portrait of them when Electra was a child, and which hangs in one of many buildings.

Much of Mrs. Havermeyer’s art collection, which features more Cassatt, is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Most of her paintings came from Europe, and she was reportedly aghast at Electra’s collecting, which began with a cigar-store Indian. I have to agree I might worry, too, if my daughter started amassing dozens of glass canes, hundreds of teacups, dolls and dollhouses, trivets, cigar boxes, hat boxes, old buggies and quilts. Housefuls and barnfuls of things. But looking at those marvelous preserved quilts – one with patches smaller than postage stamps, one with embroidered depictions of Charles Dickens’s characters – I felt happy that someone had the sense and taste and funds to preserve things that might have otherwise moldered in attics or sheds. Here’s a picture of just one corner of a general store, with the apothecary beside it as well-stocked.

Electra had no problem with the idea of moving a jail, a schoolhouse, a lighthouse, and the Ticonderoga, a steam ship that might have fallen into disrepair if it hadn’t been hauled two miles onshore. Other buildings saved and moved here include several nineteenth century homes, and “in situ,” a house preserved decked with 1950s books, clothing, and food containers.

One of the coolest buildings holds two carved tributes to circuses. Below is a Mother Goose that’s part of a foot long – that took twenty-five years to make. Walking through is a reminder of the rewards of patience. And maybe a little obsession. Which of course writers must laud.

I’m a fan of Electra, and also the living, breathing, funny, smart Elizabeth Bluemle, author of picture books including How Do You Wokka-Wokka?, and co-owner of Flying Pigs Books

Elizabeth greeted us warmly – I think three or four hugs were involved – and introduced me to staff member Kelly as “the author of Borrowed Names, that award-winning book.”

“Um, it actually hasn’t won awards.”

“Really? Well, it’s not the season yet. It’s pre-award-winning.”

Here’s a woman who can sell books, not to mention make fast friends. Thanks, Elizabeth!



  1. That looks like a fantastic trip. I love the Mary Cassatt painting. Congrats on being a pre-award winning author!

  2. Shelburne Museum is amazing–the covered bridge was originally about a quarter mile from where I live now. And Flying Pig is a treasure! Glad you got to meet Elizabeth.

  3. Yay!!!! Glad you had such a lovely time. xoxo

  4. You ARE an award-winning author…any time of year.

  5. What a wonderful trip! So that’s what the Flying Pig Bookstore looks like. And I agree with Elizabeth: “pre-award winning.” 🙂

  6. Lovely! I wholeheartedly approve of Elizabeth, her store, and her “pre-award-winning!”

  7. Such a treasure trove that Shelburne Museum: as if one Mary Cassatt painting alone wouldn’t be worth the trip. And thanks for your kind congratulations!

  8. Flying Pig and covered bridges: yay! Hope you still have a covered bridge nearby, Kathy. I like seeing them spotted on the Vermont maps!

  9. Lovely! xo

  10. Thanks, Tracy!
    Good luck with your pen today (and be patient. Sounds a bit daunting…)

  11. The Flying Pig is beautiful on the outside, but of course all the treasures are within. What an amazing wealth — especially of picture books. One might spend hours…

  12. Thank you!

  13. fabulous! all fabulous! (Love the pre-awards comment! 🙂 )

  14. I have to believe Elizabeth has precognition. Seriously.
    What a wonderful post!!

  15. I, too, consider BN “pre-award-winning.”

  16. Pre-award-winning, yes! And beloved.
    My brother worked at the Shelburne one summer, building frames and exhibit spaces. And I have vivid memories of standing in the shadowy below-decks of the Ticonderoga as a kid. (We loved the fact that it was named after our town.)

  17. Thanks, Debbi. Hope your writing is flowing, at least in moments (can we expect more? I don’t.)

  18. Thanks, Kelly!

  19. Jenn, thank you so much.

  20. I like to think of you gazing up at that ship. On our second visit to the museum, it seemed of course still very amazing, but some things had “shrunk.” Not the Ticonderoga! And how well its move was documented, which I guess you should expect when you’ve got historians around, but still: grateful.

  21. Ticonderoga
    Did you, by any chance, ever see the video of the effort it took to move the Ticonderoga the two miles from the lake to its current location? Jeannine and I watched it while visiting the ship this time, and it was fascinating. What an undertaking! And in the middle of winter, no less… because they wanted the ground to be as frozen as possible to help support the immense weight of the ship. An excellent illustration of the old adage “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”– PL

  22. Re: Ticonderoga
    Good question! It’s been long enough that I can’t remember if I saw the video (not sure they had it then), or if I just saw the stills. Either way, it was impressive. Winters are so long where I grew up, and it must have livened things up considerably to have had a ship passing through the fields.

  23. Re: Ticonderoga
    “…it must have livened things up considerably to have had a ship passing through the fields.”
    Definitely! If I am remembering it correctly, one of the neatest images was an aerial shot of the ship on its custom-made rail tracks at right angles to a train. Apparently, to get to the Shelburne Museum site, it was necessary to cross at least one active railroad track, and it had to be timed so as to not disrupt the rail traffic.
    After we’d watched the video, I commented to Jeannine that the story of the moving of the Ticonderoga would make a fun picture book… but she’s not interested in writing it herself (even though she agrees that it would be a good subject). I can just see it with someone like Michael Dooling doing the illustrations. — PL

  24. Re: Ticonderoga
    Oh, a picture book is a wonderful idea! Any chance you might try your hand at one?

  25. Re: Ticonderoga
    “Re: Ticonderoga
    Oh, a picture book is a wonderful idea! Any chance you might try your hand at one?”
    I don’t have the painting skills required to do a full-color version justice, unfortunately, and that’s how I see it in my mind’s eye. I might be able to do a black and white version, but I’m not sure if any publisher would go for that. — PL

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