This week I was among a group of so-called "Barnstormers" who got a sneak peek at the new Center for Art and Education on the graceful grounds of the Shelburne Museum. It won't officially open until August 18, but the place was sufficiently finished to allow visitors to troop through and deliver their oohs and ahhs.
And I have to say the building is impressive. The handsome, contemporary structure — designed by Ann Beha Architects of Boston — employs local granite and other stone, lots of glass and natural wood. Its sleek geometry fits right in among the much older buildings on the campus, updating but not overwhelming the museum's proportions.
Volunteers led several groups in an orderly procession through the building. Downstairs, in a capacious classroom, director of education Karen Petersen gushed about the space, the storage room and the opportunity for year-round programming.
That theme was reiterated by senior curator Jean Burks and curator of art Kory Rogers in an upstairs, 2500-square-foot gallery space (there's an equivalent space underneath it). Currently painted gray and piled with boards that will become movable walls, this room will display the building's first exhibit. Called "Color, Pattern, Whimsy & Scale," it will be composed of selected items from the museum's vast permanent collection and represent the considerations of museum founder Electra Havemeyer Webb.
In a space dominated by glass, granite and beech flooring (from Bristol), director of buildings Chip Stulen and John Lavoie of PC Construction explained what has gone into making this building — a process that will take just about a year from start to finish. Lavoie said he told his workmen they were "building a piano" — a reference to the exacting standards of a museum. The center's seeming simplicity hides a complex infrastructure of temperature and light controls, as well as energy systems that will eventually earn the structure a LEED certification.
Outdoors, on the west-facing porch, Burlington-based H. Keith Wagner Partnership landscape architects Jeff Hodgson and Keith Wagner explained the recontoured grounds, which sweep away from the Center and offer a broad view of the campus. As passersby on Route 7 can observe, the museum now feels more connected with Shelburne itself; gone are the barricade-like fence, row of cedars and small houses that once lined the road and obscured the museum.
Museum director Tom Denenberg saved his brief remarks for a reception in the Round Barn following the tour. In the curvy quarters of yesteryear, supporters imbibed cocktails with Caledonia Spirits' Barr Hill gin, munched on hors d'oeuvres courtesy of bevo caterers, chatted each other up and mused about the museum's future.
The Shelburne Museum Center for Art and Education, which will have an additional name when fundraising is complete, will open on August 15. "Wyeth Vertigo" opens June 22. All other exhibits have already opened for the season. shelburnemuseum.org