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History of the Museum

The Headley-Whitney Museum of Art was founded in 1968 by jewelry designer, George Headley and his wife, Barbara Whitney. George W. Headley III (1908-1985) was born in Lynchburg, Virginia in 1908 into a wealthy family. Artistically inclined from an early age, Headley studied art at the Art Student's League in New York and l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He later worked as a designer with the New York Jeweler Paul Flato in the 1930s. In the 1940s, Headley opened his own jewelry boutique in California at the Hotel Bel-Air. His account books of the time show that he designed for many of the Hollywood elite and their wives, including Douglas Fairbanks, Gary Cooper, the Marx Brothers, Vincent Minelli, Judy Garland, Joan Crawford, and Fanny Brice.


After nearly a decade of success on the West Coast, Headley returned to his family farm, La Belle, in Lexington and continued his career designing jewelry and bibelots. Bibelots (pronounced "bib-loh") is a French term meaning small, ornate, decorative object of beauty.


In 1960, Headley married Barbara Whitney Henry Peck (d. 1982), sister of noted thoroughbred horseman Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney (1899-1992) and daughter of the sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (d. 1942), founder of New York's Whitney Museum of American Art. 


In 1968, Headley opened his distinctive Jewel Room and Library building on the scenic grounds of La Belle Farm. The museum complex was completed in the 1970s with the addition of the Shell Grotto and the main building. The main building was expanded in 2009 to increase the space for exhibits.

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