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A Berkshire Tour

ART TIMES July, 2001

This is one of the parts I enjoy so much about my work: Along with members of the primarily International Press, I was invited by the Kreisberg Group Ltd. of NY on behalf of the Norman Rockwell Museum, the Clark Art Institute and the Berkshire Visitors Bureau to a two-day exploration of the Berkshires. The itinerary included places that I was familiar with as we have been including them in our calendar for well over a decade (some since we began publishing in 1984). It was an opportunity to have someone else plan the trip so that the most might be experienced in a short time. Instead of driving 2 hours South to NYC to meet the bus at 730am and then head North to Stockbridge, MA, I decided to take my own car.

Before meeting up with the group I stopped at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA. Founded in 1903 by philanthropist Zenas Crane, it is, according to the museum P.R., one of just a few museums where art, history and the natural world are displayed in one place. "Wally," a 26-foot long, 10-foot high stegosaurus, welcomed me as I walked to the museum I wanted to see their current exhibit The Fine Art of Craft: 1801-2001. There are 5 components of the exhibit: Work from award-winning craft artists; traditional crafts drawn from the American collections of the museum; The Gregorian family collection of antique oriental rugs; historical artifacts and photographs from the Crane legacy which includes canoes, currency and Christmas cards made in Massachusetts, and finally work from artists in residence at the museum. In addition to an extensive permanent painting collection there is an exhibit of Paper Making — the #1 industry in Berkshire County and a fine Egyptian exhibition. What a “user friendly” museum with many different discovery displays for children of all ages!

(L-R Maureen Hart Hennessey (co-curator), Peter Rockwell (son of Norman Rockwell), Nancy Fitzpatrick (Pres, Red Lion Inn & Country Curtains, local sponsor), Laurie Norton Moffatt (Dir. of Norman Rockwell Museum), Philip Verre (Dep. Dir. of High Muesum, Atlanta Georgia), Anne Knutson
co-curator) at the conference for "Norman Rockwell:
Pictures for the American People" American Art
at the High Museum, and now Executive Director of
the Art Museum of Western Virginia

Since I was early to meet the tour and I knew a bus from NYC with journalists would never arrive early (much less on time), I stopped at Chesterwood, home and studio of Daniel Chester French (best known as the sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial), which was just down the road from the Norman Rockwell Museum. The grounds are beautiful and an outdoor contemporary sculpture show is on view until October. French's studio has some of the maquettes and is very interesting. The Berkshire Mountains are quite beautiful, the hills gentle and rolling; no wonder creative people are and were drawn there.

I joined the tour at the Norman Rockwell Museum for a Press Preview/Luncheon of pictures for the American People which you will hear much more about next month when Raymond J. Steiner, our art writer and editor, reviews the show. I'll report on the museum in general and some of what I learned about Norman Rockwell. The exhibit, sponsored by The Henry Luce Foundation, Inc. and the Ford Motor Company, has been out in the world since November 1999 when it opened at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta Georgia, the co-organizers with the Norman Rockwell Museum. Since then, the exhibit has traveled to Chicago, Washington DC, San Diego, Phoenix and, when it leaves Stockbridge, will go to NYC and open at the Guggenheim Museum from November 16 until March 3, 2002. The return to Stockbridge has the town celebrating with reunions of models, a parade of characters from the paintings and all sorts of symposiums and lecture series. Fidelity Investments and Country Curtains & The Red Lion Inn are additional supporters of the exhibit while in Stockbridge. The Norman Rockwell Museum is one of just a few museums dedicated to a single artist. At the Press Opening we were addressed by the Directors of both the High Museum and the Norman Rockwell Museum expressing their delight at being part of the exhibition that to date over 900,000 people have visited. According to the responses the museum has had, it has changed America's idea of Rockwell from an illustrator to a top notch painter (something many painters already knew). It was particularly interesting to hear Peter Rockwell, a sculptor, youngest son and frequent speaker about his father Norman Rockwell. He enjoys contradicting the curators about his father and encourages the listeners not to confuse the man with the message. My father was an artist, not the nice easy going guy in the paintings. He was born in New York and half of his paintings reflect city life…” “He had a passion for Dutch Painting. As an artist he had his insecurities, he was a workaholic and was innocent about his own business.” I must say that I had been to this museum several times and like most of America (until they saw this show) thought of Norman Rockwell as an illustrator of Magazine covers. As I viewed the original oil paintings (there are more than 70 in the exhibit) I was exuberant and within minutes my idea of this man, this artist, absolutely turned about. What detail, what precision, what a great story teller, what texture and intricacies — what a master painter! The museum is in Stockbridge, MA. and this show should not be missed.

After lunch we took a short bus ride to Lenox to see Shakespeare & Co, founded in 1978 by a group of Master Teachers led by Tina Packer (Board President, Artistic Director, Director and Actor) whose intention was to create a multi-racial American Shakespeare Company that would include performance, training and education. Up until this year they have been on the same property as Edith Wharton's home, The Mount, and when this season ends they will be completely resettled on their new property (formerly a boys' school) just across the road. We met with the Managing Director, Christopher Sink, and some of the principals of the company, and since most everyone works on the stage, behind stage and with the management (according to Tina a way to reclaim Theater for the actor— “Actors should own their profession”) there is no point in naming people and their jobs. Suffice it to say that we were introduced to the history of the company (this marks the 24th performance season with 242 performances of 12 productions -see ART TIMES Calendar- on 4 stages) the current season's offerings, the building plan and then invited to a rehearsal of "Coriolanis" at the 428-seat Founders' Theater, the first indoor space to be built on the property. The theater is built of scaffolding and canvas which can be reconfigured to a thrust, promenade or proscenium stage depending on the production. Afterwards we walked to Spring Lawn, an exquisite mansion out of the Golden Ages. Nearly completed, they will perform, in a small and intimate space, works by Edith Wharton, Henry James, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville and other Berkshire writers. The offices and some living accommodations and rehearsal rooms are now at the site. What a fabulous place to be part of the theater. (What a place to live!) Actors come from all over the country and the world to study, to work and many return year after year to become part of this 5-month repertory company.

Tech rehearsal of "Coriolanis" at the new
Founders' Theater (Tina Packer seated center)
Shakespeare & Company, Lenox MA

They have a very extensive outreach educational program, one of the largest in the Northeast, touching 40,000 students and teachers each year. Part of the dream in having property that they can build on (The Mount is a historic site and they were limited in what building could take place) is to become a year-round performing company (although during the winter months they do many performances off the grounds at schools). A very exciting project is underway and fund raising for the building of the world's first historically accurate Rose Playhouse (first built in 1587 and where people first saw Shakespeare's earliest plays) has begun with cooperation from the Rose Theatre Trust in England. It was in 1989 that archeologists found the remains of the theater just a few hundred yards away from the rebuilt Globe along the River Thames in London. Architect Jon Greenfield, builder of the Globe in London, will build the Rose which will be surrounded by its own Elizabethan Village. I am thrilled to connect more directly with Shakespeare & Company, the theater blood (I taught drama and directed numerous plays during my tenure at Sexton High School in Lansing, Michigan) is stimulated and I just want to sign up and do whatever needs being done to be part of the company. My great admiration and appreciation go to Tina Packer and the founders for making their vision a reality. For more information about the Rose Playhouse and Shakespeare & Company call 413 637-1199 or go to their website: www.shakespeare.org

A brief look at Edith Wharton's home: The Mount, which is being renovated (and unfortunately we couldn't go inside) by Edith Wharton Restoration, Inc., was established in 1980 to preserve and restore The Mount, and to form a cultural and educational center dedicated to the study and promotion of Edith Wharton and to recognize and celebrate women of achievement. Only 5% of National Historic Landmarks are dedicated to women - The Mount is one of them. Ongoing programs include a Women of Achievement Lecture Series. For more information, call them at 413-637-1899 or go to the website at www.edithwharton.org. We were guests of the Fitzpatrick Family, owners of the The Red Lion Inn, (www.redlioninn.com) in Stockbridge, MA., and were treated to a wonderfully cozy and comfortable room that made me feel like I was in a fantasy at Grandma's house with sweet smelling bed linens, thick towels, delightful old books and antiques from the early 1900's in the hallways. (I'm curious what their new inn, The Porches Inn, located in North Adams, right near Mass Moca (www.porches.com) will be like. Within minutes of The Red Lion is Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, Tanglewood, Chesterwood, The Norman Rockwell Museum, The Berkshire Theatre Festival and the Berkshire Botanical Garden. So much to do… After dinner at Jack's Grill in Housatonic (just 10 minutes away), we returned to Stockbridge and some of the tour members, myself included, went to see“…and then you go on. An Anthology of the Works of Samuel Becket” which was adapted and performed by Peter Wallace at the Unicorn Theatre built in 1996 with 122 seats in what The Berkshire Theatre Festival calls its version of off-, and occasionally off-off Broadway. Kate McGuire, Producing Director, welcomed us by saying that they hoped to bring us all that helps us to be human. The third oldest theatre in the nation, the BTF enters its 73rd season, looking back on seven decades of opening nights with productions by some of the centuries’ most important playwrights, directors and actors. On the Main Stage this season is "My Fair Lady," "The Smell of the Kill," and "Awake and Sing.” For more information, check out their website at www.berkshiretheatre.org. It was back to The Red Lion, some rocking and visiting on the porch (where the world walks by) and then to bed.

The morning call was quite early as we were due at Cranwell Resort & Golf Club (with a state of the art spa opening this winter) for Breakfast (french toast stuffed with fruit and a cream cheese & cinnamon spread was my favorite) and an overview of the county by the Berkshire Visitors Bureau. The promoters tout the Berkshires (located in Western Massachusetts) as having world class culture in a beautiful atmosphere. With nearly 60 Music, Historic Sites, Theater, Art Centers, Museums and Dance venues, they are not wrong. When the mills and factories began closing many years ago, energy was focused into bringing more cultural activity to the Berkshires, and it worked; today tourism is the #2 industry in the Berkshires due to the extensive offerings of culture, outdoor sports and, more recently, health spas. What a beautiful place to live and work.

Director of the Clark Art Institute,
Michael Conforti, showing the press the newly acquired piano designed by Lawrence Alma Tedema and built by Johnstone Norman & Company, 1887, London, for Henry G. Marquand, NYC (an original trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC)

Next stop was the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown (about 45 minutes North of Stockbridge) where we were greeted and addressed by various staff members of  the museum before a tour with curator Richard R. Brettell, Professor of Aesthetic Studies in the school of Arts and Humanities at the University of Texas at Dallas. The exhibit we were there to see was Impression: Painting Quickly in France, 1860-1890 and is reviewed in this issue by Raymond J. Steiner. A great to-do is being made about the show which had glowing reviews when it opened at the National Gallery in London before going to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. The Clark is the last venue for the exhibit which to my eyes was more academic than aesthetic. Whenever I am at this museum I am always taken with the permanent collection, particularly the paintings. They have one of the finest and largest collections of Impressionist paintings and an outstanding collection of silver. Don't miss the paintings of Sargent, Boldini, Alma Tadema. The Clark's (money from the Singer Sewing Machine family) were avid collectors and established not only a museum but an institute focused on research, scholarship and public programs. The library is considered one of the nation's premier art reference libraries for the study of European and American art, from the Renaissance to the present. This is a vibrant museum with wonderful educational programs, conferences, and symposia, as well as a visiting scholars' program that hosts museum and university professionals from around the world. After quite an elegant lunch and time for more questions for the curator and director of the Clark Institute Michael Conforti, I headed over to Mass Moca for (what I thought would be) a quick look before heading home.

"Uberorgan" by Tim Hawkinson at Mass Moca

Sprague Electric Company, makers of capacitors, closed their operations in North Adams in 1985 (having opened in the late 1920's) and left about 25% of the working population of the community without jobs. Politicians and business leaders gathered, along with curators from nearby Williams College Museum of Art (who were looking for mill space to exhibit large works of contemporary art that would not fit in conventional galleries) to find creative ways to re-use the vast mill complex of 27 building and Mass Moca was born. It is dedicated to the creation and presentation of provocative visual and performing arts pieces and of works on the cutting edge. There are also artists in residence, a theater, an outdoor cinema, and a kids space. As a result of having this tremendous amount of space (the largest center of contemporary art in the US), Rauschenberg's The 1/4 Mile or 2 Furlong Piece" can be fully displayed and the Uberorgan by Tim Hawkinson (which actually plays music electronically triggered rather than mechanically triggered like a player piano) through tentacle bellows in a room about the size of a football field. It is quite an experience to walk through this former factory stimulating reactions of laughter, questioning, intrigue, and disgust. Several thousand people visit each week; I was quite amazed. I would be happier if they called it the museum of "cutting edge" contemporary art as there are many contemporary artists doing classical work. I think it gives the general non-art sophisticated public the wrong idea about contemporary art. On an economic note, Mass Moca has stimulated the economy of North Adams, creating over 200 jobs and opening up office space and commercial space in their renovated factory buildings. What a trip, I didn't feel like going anywhere for several days.

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