Sunday, October 6, 2019

An art-infused holiday in Massachusetts

On a recent "art and culture tour", our first stop in western Massachusetts was Williamstown, just south of the Vermont border. Williamstown is the perfect little college town, as though designed by Disney. It is home to Williams College, established in 1793.

street view as seen from the entrance to the art museum
of Williams College

This liberal arts school, with an enrolment of little more than 2000, has a fine Museum of Art. Teachers in various disciplines (history, religion, biology, among others) select a few pieces from the museum's art collection to augment their required reading lists, and these are displayed at the museum's entrance. In this way, casual visitors like me are given a new perspective on the art collection. As part of a biology class, for example, an Albers colour study might be a topic for discussion on visual perception.

The Williams College campus is bisected
by the main street through town.

The Clark Institute in Williamstown,
with its charming lily pond in the foreground

Next stop in Williamstown was the Clark Art Institute, commonly referred to as "The Clark". The architecture of the building is very striking, and the holdings are impressive. The Clark is best known for its collections of French Impressionist paintings, especially Renoir, as well as some major pieces by John Singer Sargent and by J.M.W. Turner.

John Singer Sargent, Smoke of Ambergris, 1880

Camille Pissarro, Piette's House at Montfoucault, 1874

Camille Pissarro, Route de Versailles, Louveciennes, Rain Effect, 1870

Then it was on to North Adams, home to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, better known as  Mass MoCA. While there, we especially enjoyed the immersive light and hologram installations of James Turrell. To get a sense of how this enormous space, formerly industrial, has brought new life to a struggling corner of the state, you might want to watch this:

What else did we see in Massachusetts? The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge is definitely worth a couple of hours. We had an excellent tour of The Mount, the turn-of-the-century home of author Edith Wharton, that gave us a glimpse into her life and times. Her estate includes formal gardens and fifty acres of beautiful woodland.

The Mount, home to Edith Wharton, in Lenox

We also spent a half-day at the Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield MA, where we enjoyed live demonstrations of basket weaving, blacksmithing, and woodworking. We learned about the lives of the 100 or so one-time residents of this religious community by touring their dormitories, schoolroom, farm fields and barns.

There is one more art-themed attraction in Massachusetts that I want to share with you, but it will have to wait for an upcoming post.

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