Electra Havemeyer Webb was quite the collector.
She came by it naturally enough. Her parents brought French Impressionism to America, importing the first Monet to our shores in the late 19th century.
But Electra’s collections were more eclectic. Americana was her game. That meant quilts, pewter, firearms, carriages, weathervanes and primitive portraits. To house it all, she created the Shelburne Museum in 1947 – 39 buildings on 40 acres near Burlington, Vt.
“Its founding documents called for an educational institution that is varied and alive,” says museum director Tom Denenberg. “Since then there have been numerous iterations – they’re about creativity, ingenuity and design.”
Like photographic images of rock stars Debbie Harry, Iggy Pop, James Brown, Joey Ramone and Madonna, to name a few. They’re all part of a new exhibition called “Backstage Pass” – 300 photographic images of late 20th- and early 21st-century Rockers & Rollers.
“There are a few photos that people recognize – but they’re mostly outtakes – backstage or candid, not posed or heroic onstage public relations photographs,” he says. “It’s an off-camera, off-stage story of rock photography.”
That story began in 1948, when Billboard magazine legitimized “Race” records by referring to them instead as “Rhythm & Blues.” All of a sudden, the music with a wail and a backbeat was readily accessible worldwide. “That’s why we had kids in Liverpool listening to black Americans – and then the British invasion over here,” he says.
The exhibition, which opens on Feb. 11, is meant to unite rock aficionados of all generations and all races. “We wanted to push the idea of how to bring people together who may have different skin colors and be from different places,” he says. “The ideal intent is to unify rather than divide.”
Then there’s that overarching, larger question we’ve all been pondering for decades now: “What kind of world will we leave for Keith Richards?” Denenberg asks, tongue planted firmly in cheek.
The answer to that is another exhibition altogether.