Published: October 31, 2023
Submitted by the family
SHELBURNE, VT. — The family of Robert Ellsworth Shaw Jr sadly announces his passing on October 16, 2023, in Owings Mills, Md. He is survived by his wife Nancy Meigs, whom he married in Shelburne, Vt., in 1985 where they resided until last year when symptoms of Lewy Body Dementia and Parkinson’s Disease emerged, necessitating his retirement to Maryland.
Bob was born in New Haven, Conn., on July 20, 1951, to Ruth and Robert Shaw, and grew up in nearby Simsbury. From a young age he had a passion for literature and music, playing the guitar both as a solo artist and in bands throughout high school, his years at Middlebury College and following graduation in 1973.
In 1981, he joined Shelburne Museum as a writer and later became a curator. He was instrumental in creating exhibits and writing books about decoys and prints; establishing connections with experienced collectors of folk art, including those focused on quilts, needlework, weathervanes, scrimshaw, baskets, tools, pottery and musical instruments. In 1994, he embarked on a career as a writer and independent curator, penning numerous books and curating exhibits at prestigious museums and expositions in the United States and Japan. He also offered his expertise as a consultant to private collectors, museums and Sotheby’s. Notably, he was the founding editor of Americana Insights, a nonprofit publication dedicated to the study of Americana and folk art, founded by Jane Katcher and David Schorsch in 2021.
Bob took immense pride in his final book, American Weathervanes: The Art of the Winds, which was published in 2021 in conjunction with a groundbreaking exhibition he curated with Emelie Gevalt at the American Folk Art Museum in New York City. This comprehensive study has since become the definitive resource on weathervanes.
In addition to his professional accomplishments, Bob was an avid music collector with a library of more than 2,000 albums spanning folk, rock, blues, jazz, pop and classical genres. He generously shared his scholarly research through his books, articles and personal insights.
Bob’s passing leaves a void in the hearts of his family, friends and colleagues within the museum and antiques community. A celebration of life is scheduled for the summer of 2024 in Vermont, with details to be announced in the spring. In lieu of flowers, the family kindly requests that donations be made in Bob’s memory to Gilchrist Cares of Towson, Maryland (https://gilchristcares.org/donate/).
In addition to his wife, Nancy, Bob is survived by their two cherished daughters, Emma Meigs Shaw (Eric Fernald) and Georgia Taintor Shaw; his sister Ellen Shaw (partner Kevin Huntington) and her children Atticus Diamon and Elektra Diamon (partner Kent Michonski); his brother David Shaw and partner Clay Ide; and his sister Sarah Shaw Gilmore (Robert Thigpen) and daughter Laura Welles (Cruz Kennedy Ricker) and a grandnephew, Noel.
It is a loss to the art world to lose Bob Shaw when he still had so much to share. I first met him when he visited me 10 years ago during his early research for the book on weathervanes published in 2021, but never ceased to be amazed at his ability to research and select the best with the true eye of a curator. He continued to share his discoveries over the years and greatly added to my knowledge. Knowing how many beautiful examples of vanes were available, he was keen to only have the best in the American Folk Art Museum exhibit, and so it was.
Bob said he had enough material for a second book on vanes, and I wish he had been given the time to produce it, along with his other planned exhibits in other categories and publications.
I will miss his friendship and our constant collaboration on new discoveries in vanes and other folk art and appreciate how much I learned from him.
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