Art Break: The Berkshires Are Beckoning For a Day Trip or a Weekend Getaway
By A. E. Colas, Contributing Writer, July 30, 2018
We love New York, we really do, but when it gets too hot and humid it’s time to hop in the car and head for the hills – in this case, the Berkshires. Located in Western Massachusetts, this region has a fantastic variety of museum experiences, from intimate home settings of twentieth century writers and artists, to the brash modern works of today. We’ll guide you to several spots ideal for day trips or a long weekend; none more than 3 hours from the city and all featuring interesting summer shows.
Let’s start with two small house museums: The Mount, owned by Edith Wharton and Chesterwood, belonging to Daniel French Chester. Both residences were built around 1901 and encompass an elegant combination of European and American styles. With airy rooms and beautiful formal gardens, these homes were centers of creativity and tranquility for their famous tenants.
The Mount offers many daily house tours, visitors are welcome to stroll in the gardens and trails of the estate with or without guidance. There is an extensive summer arts program available to the public; for more information click here.
Chesterwood functions as both a museum and center of learning for all ages. A new addition of a state-of-the-art gallery space has a permanent installation of Chester’s work, including his rarely seen paintings. The annual summer show, Contemporary Sculpture at Chesterwood: 40 YRS (June 30 – October 8), celebrates the museum’s innovative approach to modern sculpture in nature settings.
As a bonus, why not stop by Steepletop, Edna St. Vincent Millay’s home? Although it’s just over the New York-Massachusetts border, we think of it as a hidden gem of the Berkshires, being less than ten miles from the other residences mentioned. The non-profit society in charge of preserving and promoting the estate opens the house and grounds four days a week from May 1 to November 1. Visitors can take guided tours, visit a special display on her life, or picnic on the site.
In addition, there is a wonderful temporary exhibit called Edna St. Vincent Millay: Through Their Eyes (Until October 29), featuring artistic works influenced by her writings.
Another fascinating place in the Berkshires is the Hancock Shaker Village, a working farm and museum space. Founded in 1783, the Hancock community was fully active until the 1960s when it was decided to preserve and restore the buildings and space. There is an enormous variety of activities and tours for all age groups, hiking trails, and even a restaurant using produce from the on-site garden. Open from April to December, the Hancock Shaker Village is beautiful in every season.
Rounding out our group of small cultural treasures is the Berkshire Botanical Garden. Using more than fifteen acres, this garden makes the challenges of growing plants in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 5b (this part of the state can have frost as late as the end of May) look easy. This summer, the garden presents its annual Art/Garden series: Ellsworth Kelly: Plant Lithographs and a sculpture exhibit, Beautiful Strangers: Artists Discover the Garden. Both displays run May 26 to October 8, allowing visitors to see the works through the changing seasons.
For visitors who prefer a more traditional museum experience, the Berkshires have a first-class group of institutions. We’re featuring three museums that are absolute must-sees, having carved out distinctive identities for themselves and created new tourism interest in the region. It’s an encouraging example of what the arts can do for the economy and development of a state.
The Norman Rockwell Museum is well-known for its outstanding collection of the artist’s works. As a leader in 20th century American illustration, Rockwell came to define his time through art expressing universal human behaviors, often with a touch of humor. Besides the permanent collection, the museum has an outstanding summer exhibit, Keepers of the Flame: Parrish, Wyeth, Rockwell and the Narrative Tradition (June 9 – October 28), tracing methods of that style from the fifteenth to twentieth centuries.
The Clark Art Institute, founded in the mid 1950s, is a classic American art museum with strong academic and research facilities. The collection features gems of many periods but the finest works are, without a doubt, their Impressionist and Post-Impressionist pictures. Adding to the pleasure of these galleries, The Clark has two summer exhibits on aspects of the Parisian art scene of that time: Women Artists in Paris, 1850 – 1900 (June 9 – September 3) and A City Transformed, Photographs of Paris 1850 – 1900 (July 1 – September 23). In addition, two more shows, The Art of Iron: Objects from the Musée Le Secq des Tournelles, Rouen, Normandy (June 9 – September 16) and Jennifer Steinkamp: Blind Eye (June 30 – October 8) showcase the museum’s commitment to excellence in design and innovative practices. Information on all the current and special exhibitions is here.
MASS MoCA is Massachusetts’ answer to the question: What can the arts do for local communities? This complex of twenty-eight buildings, originally built for industrial usage, houses a variety of arts initiatives striking for their originality and modernity, engaging with audiences of every kind. There are currently thirty-one installations on view and multiple performances every weekend.
Looking for more to do on your getaway? Consider attending a concert, or seeing theater or dance at some of the venues listed here.
Cover: The Terrace at The Mount; photo: Sarah Edwards.