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A Monument to Retro
by
Bob Brooke

 

Most people would expect a museum of industrial design—a monument to Retro–to be located in a large metropolitan city like New York or Chicago. In fact, this gem is hidden in the hills of Vermont. Located in the town of Waitsfield, the Madisonian Museum contains a fascinating collection of some of the best objects of industrial design, including many retro items.



The Madisonian is the result of a lifelong dream of its founder, noted architect David Sellers, who lives and works in nearby Warren, Vermont. After completing his studies in architecture at Yale University, Sellers embarked on a stunning career, designing projects all over the world. He firmly believes that if everyday objects are designed to be both beautiful and functional that people will use them longer, thus stemming the tide of the world’s throwaway culture.

Located in an unassuming white New England clapboard building in the village of Waitsfield., the exterior of the Madisonian Museum belies what’s contained inside. It isn’t one of those slick, beautifully designed halls of history. Instead, it’s a strictly utilitarian building with open rafters and wooden walls. In fact, it almost has an industrial workshop look. It’s been open to the public since 2011.

Displayed in this modest space are over 2,000 of the best designed and most artistic manufactured objects. Ranging from the early 1900s to present day, the museum’s collection features everything from cars, bikes and motorcycles to toys, canoes, golf gear, radios, toasters, and typewriters.

It features the work of some of the best industrial designers and architects, including some of history's most noted, such as Frank Gehry, Alvar Aalto, Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, Norman Bel Geddes, Raymond Loewy, Eero Saarinen, and Marcel Breuer.

In addition to the work of the best designers, the Madisonian’s collection includes many of the most important products in industrial design, including those influenced by the Art Moderne Movement that began in the 1930s. Products from such leading brands as Electrolux, RCA, Ford, General Electric, Chrysler, Lionel, and LEGO are well represented.

The museum contains an Industrial Designers “Wall of Fame,” an assortment of chair designs, vintage advertisements torn straight from magazines and pinned to the walls, as well as a variety of lighting products, a Polaroid camera, a Mason and Hamlin organ, and even a 1934 DeSoto Airflow coupe.

Just about everything on display has an interesting personal story, such as a menu from the SS Normandie ocean liner. A couple donated it to the museum after their visit. They had honeymooned on the ship in the 1930s and kept the menu as a souvenir.

Sellers regularly creates special temporary exhibitions from items in his collection, such as a chair exhibit, featuring stunning chairs from Charles and Ray Eames and others, toy designs, featuring two of the largest model trains every built, airplanes, and an original Mr. Machine.

It doesn’t take but an hour or so to view the exhibits. The museum is only open on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons from 12-4 P.M. or by appointment.

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