By Kim Ostellino
Museums are an enormous part of the fabric that makes up the Berkshire landscape, and though some of them are open seasonally, several remain open year round, creating a cultural road map throughout the Berkshires, even for those visitors who come in the colder months.
Starting in Sheffield, there is The Ashley House, which is a small museum dedicated to the history of revolutionary slave, Mum Bett(and her heroic court battle for emancipation). This museum is open daily, from sunrise to sunset, and admission is free. Further to the north, you’ll find the The Norman Rockwell Museum, in Stockbridge. This world renowned museum, of course, features the amazing art of Norman Rockwell, but also showcases other leading artists, with the museum’s ongoing events throughout the year. They offer a series of gallery talks, with some upcoming topics including The Shakers and ‘Model Citizens’, which will offer a glance at the models who posed for Rockwell. From March 15 – June 15, the museum will host an exhibit entitled, ‘Baseball, Rodeos and Automobiles – The Art of Murray Tinkerman.’ This display explores the pen and ink drawings of this award winning illustrator, and can be viewed daily, during museum hours.
Ventfort Hall Mansion and Guilded Age Museum, in Lenox, offers a unique look back at the enchanted days of the Gilded Age. Open daily, a visitor can roam the lower rooms of the mansion, and view their ongoing exhibit of fashionably dressed miniatures, in ‘Les Petit Dames de Mode.’ Also in Lenox, is The Mount, home of esteemed author, Edith Wharton. Although most of the museum remains closed until May(though they do hold a series of year round readings), the glorious grounds are open to the public year round, and even welcomes dog walkers onto their property. Along the way, there is Animagic Museum of Special Effects, in Lee, and this is a great way to spend the afternoon, especially if younger ones are in your crowd. There is Hancock Shaker Village, or there is Arrowhead, in Pittsfield, which is the home of Moby Dick author, Herman Melville. The Berkshire Museum, also in Pittsfield, will be hosting an exhibit of various collections of Berkshire County residents which runs from January 25 – May 1. Berkshire Collects will include a wide assortment of collections from toys to guitars to toasters, guaranteeing something for everyone.
In Dalton, there is The Crane Museum of Papermaking, where all of the currency for the United States is made. Further to the north, in Williamstown, you will find Williams College Museum of Art and The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. With the campus currently under construction, you will still be able to find a wide variety of ongoing exhibits, including ‘The Sacred and Profane: Four Hundred Years of Religious and Mythological Paintings’ (through March 23). The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, and admission is free through mid Spring. The Clark will have its grand re-opening on July 4th so mark your calendars for this exciting event!
A bit to the East, you will find the great, industrial museum, MASS MoCA. As the country’s largest museum for Contemporary Arts, it will always amaze with its vastly sized art pieces. One such collection will feature ‘In Transit: Between Image and Object’, opening on January 26th, and will exhibit an artist who transforms shipping crates and other transportation containers into art. MASS MoCA is also a venue for music performances, such as reggae artist, Burning Spear, who will play on February 15th. If you continue your journey to the north, you will encounter North Adams Museum of History and Science and Bennington Museum, which is just over the Vermont border.
Visiting any or all of these museums is a treat at any time of the year, but I find it especially pleasing in the winter and spring months, when the crowds are sparse, and you gladly spend time indoors without thinking that you are missing out on the fabulous outdoors, that always seems to compete with our wonderful cultural venues. No matter when you visit or how many of the museums you get to see, you will surely be enriched by what you find, ensuring more wonderful memories of your visit to the Berkshires!
Click for a complete list of all Berkshire Museums, Historic Sites and Gardens.
Kim lives in Stockbridge with her kids and her dog. She is an avid lover of the outdoors and local history and is the founder of Berkshiregirl, an online source, devoted to sharing the best of the Berkshires.