Groups Can Explore Extraordinary Art in Uncommon Places in the Berkshires
Transport your group to a world of imaginative art in some of the Berkshires’ most unconventional locations. They’re just far enough off the beaten path to make you feel like you’ve entered another world, yet they retain a sense of the Berkshire town in which they reside. Best of all you can tour one or a few in just a day.
Starting at the northeast corner of the Berkshires, have your group visit the Eclipse Mill in North Adams. Reflecting the town’s history as the commercial and industrial center of North Berkshire in the 18th century, this former textile mill has been converted into 40 artist live/work studio loft condominiums. With the gallery open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays, they will have the opportunity to view the works of the resident artists as well as guest artists. From painters to fabric artists to furniture craftsmen, this busy building is a big player in the town’s rapidly growing art scene. While you are in North Adams, be sure your group has time to stroll the quaint downtown streets and explore the many art galleries that make up DownStreet Art. DownStreet Art is a public art project designed to revitalize downtown North Adams by harnessing existing art organizations and events and transforming vacant and open spaces into art destinations.
Heading south into Pittsfield, the Berkshires’ county seat now celebrating its 250th anniversary, your group will see that galleries have taken up residence alongside the many restaurants, shops and theaters lining the revitalized North Street downtown. With its mission of being a community arts center, the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts is housed in a historic building in downtown Pittsfield. Inside, there’s a gallery and performance area, workshops, and artist’s studios. It is, in itself, a model for revitalization of Pittsfield. Another do not miss for on your tour, is the Ferrin Gallery. This gallery rivals any you would find in New York City. It is one of the nation’s premier ceramic art and sculpture galleries. The gallery program presents changing exhibitions featuring contemporary art, photography and sculpture from throughout the region along with nationally known ceramic sculptors and studio potters. Look at art, shop, and take in the urban hipness that is the 250-year-old Pittsfield.
When your group has had its fill of Berkshires urban grit (such as it is), you can hop on your bus and head south into pure sophistication of an older time: the Frelinghuysen Morris House and Studio in Lenox. While Lenox was populated by opulent cottages built during the Gilded Age (we call them mansions today, many of them now bed and breakfast inns), George L.K. Morris and Suzy Frelinghuysen represented the “modern” era of the 1930s. Art collectors and intellectuals, they were abstract artists who created an Art Deco Berkshire home that reflected their aesthetic world. Set on a 46-acre estate in the heart of Lenox, the house itself is a work of art, a two-story stucco and glass block house. Its harmony of art, architecture and design houses the works not just of the couple but also those of Picasso, Braque and Leger. The residence, art and grounds are one big package to be admired.
Once you’ve taken in the spaciousness at Frelinghuysen, motor on over to Great Barrington and the Vault Gallery right on Main Street. Great Barrington was the first municipality to have electric streetlights, and if you squint your eyes you can almost imagine that the town didn’t look all that different then from today’s bustling scene. You could even imagine the historic Mahaiwe Bank building must have looked in its heyday. The bank’s vault now contains part of the gallery’s collection of contemporary paintings, photography, sculpture and featured work of artist Marilyn Kalish. What doesn’t fit inside the vault itself is just a step away in a bright, airy salon. Once you have toured this gallery head up Railroad Street and take in the Berkshire Art Gallery and if your group has still not had enough then be sure to visit Asia Barong, where your group can take in thousands of sculptures, furniture pieces and fine craftwork from Asia, truly a unique Berkshire destination.
For some more dimensional art experiences, head back out of town, first to Hoffman Pottery in West Stockbridge. Tucked away from the picturesque village, Elaine Hoffman’s studio will enchant you with works that exude whimsy in color, form and ornamentation. Hoffman’s sunny style extends from practical items (lazy susans, picture frames, garden sculptures) to the purely decorative. Also in West Stockbridge is the Hotchkiss Mobiles Gallery which is sure to impress any group. For over 30 years the mobiles of Joel Hotchkiss have been seen in Major Museum Stores and Galleries Nationwide such as the Guggenheim Museum in NYC, SFMOMA and the Art Institute in Chicago.
Conclude your tour at Hoogs and Crawford Modern Glass, still a part of the Berkshires, but located in forested, hilly Canaan, New York near Queechy Lake. Glass artists Nathan Hoogs and Elizabeth Crawford produce stunning glass art pieces in their studio and not only practice the art of glassblowing, but teach it. Is your group wanting to learn how to make their own glass paperweight in just a half hour? Or take a one-hour lesson to learn some basic glassblowing skills? Then make an appointment for your group at Hoogs and Crawford.
No matter how many or which of these art destinations your group gets to (and there are plenty more), they will have experienced the Berkshires at its best: artistic, individualistic and welcoming. A full day, to be sure, and one that may have you coming back for another group tour of different sort.
Lisa Green is a freelance writer and amateur harpist who has recently relocated to the Berkshires from Florida (the state)…and couldn’t be happier.