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Vermont's Shelburne Museum Chooses Designer for Native American Art Center

Thu May 11, 2023 - Northeast Edition #13
Shelburne Museum & The Architect’s Newspaper

A beaded doll that will be part of the Shelburne Museum's collection at the Perry Center for Native American Art. (Shelburne Museum photo)
A beaded doll that will be part of the Shelburne Museum's collection at the Perry Center for Native American Art. (Shelburne Museum photo)

Vermont's Shelburne Museum, the largest art and history museum in northern New England, announced May 8 that it had chosen Adjaye Associates, an internationally acclaimed architecture studio to design the museum's new Perry Center for Native American Art.

At the same time, the museum also said it would be the stewards of the Perry Collection of Native American Art, which includes items from Plains, Prairie and Southwest peoples, and "forms the core of a museum initiative to collaborate with Indigenous nations, scholars, and culture bearers to present a model of stewardship for Indigenous creative culture and presentation to a broad audience."

The proposed gallery space will be within a sustainable building surrounded by integrated landscaping and created in collaboration with Indigenous voices whose cultures and people are represented in the works to be cared for at the Shelburne.

Adjaye Associates has studios in Accra, London and New York, with its work found across the globe. The studio's most well-known commission to date, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, opened in 2016 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

"Shelburne Museum is honored to be partnering with David Adjaye and his team to create a welcoming space where Tribal members and scholars can study and engage with Indigenous art, and all visitors — the local community, schoolchildren and tourists — can experience the museum," said Thomas Denenberg, director and CEO of the Shelburne, located on the east bank of Lake Champlain, south of Burlington, Vt.

"David and his colleagues are in absolute alignment with the museum's goal to serve as a culturally competent steward of a nationally important collection."

Indigenous Designers to Collaborate With Adjaye

The Perry Center for Native American Art at Shelburne Museum is planned to be a 9,750-sq.-ft., highly sustainable pavilion, according to the museum. Crucially, the $12.6 million Perry Center will be designed from the ground up in partnership with Indigenous peoples to support the culturally appropriate interpretation and care of Indigenous material culture.

"Our team is inspired by the potential of the Perry Center to not only enhance Shelburne Museum as a destination for education, but also to amplify and empower the Indigenous communities represented by the collection and to reconceptualize the role of a 21st century museum facility," noted Adjaye. "As the design architect for the new Perry Center, Adjaye Associates intends to cultivate opportunities for transformation, storytelling, and cross-cultural dialogue, ensuring the Perry Center contributes to the unique eclecticism and mission of Shelburne Museum."

The New York City office of Adjaye's firm will work closely with Indigenous partners in the design of the building. Two Row Architect has been named the Indigenous consultant on the project, while a Native American Advisory Committee and a Native American Collections Stewardship Advisory Committee, respectively, will advise on the Perry Collection's care, and host a series of cultural competency seminars. These committees include academics, museum professionals (including those of Indigenous heritage), and members of the Abenaki nation.

Groundbreaking for the new building is planned for the fall of 2024, with the pavilion's tentative opening likely in 2026.

Shelburne Houses Range of Beautiful Objects

The Shelburne Museum is Vermont's foremost public resource for programming in the arts and humanities. Incorporated in 1947, the museum complex is made up of 39 buildings and 22 gardens on a 45-acre campus.

In its collection are more than 100,000 objects in unique and unparalleled installations of American art and material culture. It also houses many beautiful, fascinating and whimsical objects such as the Ticonderoga, a restored 220-ft. steamboat, the last walking beam side-wheel passenger steamer in existence. Built in Shelburne in 1906, the vessel once plied the waters of Lake Champlain as a day boat, serving ports along the New York and Vermont shores until 1953.

Another of the Shelburne's more prominent structures is the Round Barn, a three-story building measuring 80-ft. in diameter. At 122 years old, the structure is an example of the Shaker-designed round barns first built almost 200 years ago in Massachusetts.

The museum's trailblazing founder, Electra Havemeyer Webb (1888–1960), repeatedly called for expanding scholarly and popular understanding of American material life as one of the principal collectors who defined the field in the decades that bracketed World War II. A critical example of this impulse was Webb's deep interest in, and engagement with, Indigenous art and culture, an aspect of the Shelburne's program not fully realized in her lifetime and of singular importance to the institution today.

Adjaye Recognized Internationally for His Work

In addition to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, among many other of Adjaye Associates' completed works are the new George Street Plaza & Community Building with Indigenous artwork in Sydney, Australia's central business district; the Sugar Hill Mixed-Use Development and Children's Museum of Art and Storytelling in Harlem, N.Y.; the Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo, Norway; and the Idea Stores — two pioneering community libraries in London's Tower Hamlets.

In 2017, Adjaye was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II and was included in TIME Magazine's 100 Most Influential People List. He also is a recipient of the 2021 RIBA Royal Gold Medal, considered one of the highest honors in British architecture for significant contributions to the field internationally, and has received the World Economic Forum's 27th Annual Crystal Award, which recognizes his "leadership in serving communities, cities and the environment."

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