By Margit Hotchkiss
What other area in the country, even the world, can you tour world-class museums in such picturesque settings? From MASS MoCA, The Clark, Williams College Museum of Art and Bennington Museum, to the Berkshire Museum and Norman Rockwell Museum –truly the views in the Berkshires are amazing inside and out. As a 20-year Berkshire resident who moved here to live, work and enjoy this rare combination, I wanted to share a sampling of what impressive offerings we have for group tours.
Visiting the wonderfully diverse museums is an easy and beautiful excursion, whether for long day trips, or building a multi-day itinerary. Starting in the south – groups love their visits to Norman Rockwell Museum, set in Stockbridge, MA, where the artist lived and worked for the last 25 years of his life. Presenting heartwarming, thought-provoking and poignant images of everyday Americans, New England, and important moments in history, Rockwell’s art is something we can all relate to and find inspiration from. New exhibitions are introduced seasonally, and the world’s largest collection of Rockwell art is continually rotated, promising new experiences with each visit. A seasonal cafe, plus the short scenic walk to Rockwell’s historic studio are favorite spots for visiting groups.
A short ride north, (just 15-20 minutes) to downtown Pittsfield brings you to the local favorite: Berkshire Museum. There is something for everyone here, as it presents art, history, and natural science in a beautiful century-old building, full of exciting new spaces and exhibitions. My personal preference remains their excellent collection of Hudson River School paintings, and the serene little aquarium; plus a fabulous shop! Nearby shops, restaurants and galleries within walking distance make it easy for groups looking for free time to explore, with lovely architecture to enjoy as well.
More scenic views await traveling north—past lakes and Massachusetts’ highest peak, Mount Greylock—to one of the Berkshires’ many historic mill towns, North Adams, where a most innovative museum resides in repurposed warehouses. Meander through MASS MoCA’s dramatic spaces and exhibitions, featuring cutting-edge contemporary art that presents fresh perspectives to groups looking for something new! Performances, programs, dining and shopping round out the experience; plus a newly-announced massive expansion promising even more to explore.
Heading northwest to the charming college town of Williamstown, prepare to discover the fantastic new renovations and expanded campus at The Clark. Debuting this summer, not only will the architecture by Tadao Ando be a sight to behold, but the exhibitions will take you from ancient Asia to the best of American contemporary painters. Elegantly renovated galleries will feature the reinstallation of their world-renowned permanent collection, including everyone’s favorite French paintings, returning from an international tour. For the energetic group, walking trails, new buildings and spaces can provide hours of exploration. A reading room, bookstore and a coffee bar provide “downtime” and lectures, tours and programs for those who want to immerse themselves further.
Right down the road is the beloved hidden gem: Williams College Museum of Art. While a full day may be needed to explore both The Clark and WCMA, it is certainly worthwhile! An active, collecting museum, WCMA offers a broad range of exhibitions that challenge assumptions about art, history, and the world in which we live. Some of America’s best artists will be featured in a new exhibition series that presents a provocative juxtaposition of art from the colonial period through mid-1900s, including Prendergast, Wood, Eakins, Cornell and more.
To complete this “museum trail through the Berkshires,” travel north on Route 7, just over the line into Vermont to visit the Bennington Museum. As the largest art and history repository in Southern Vermont, the Museum houses diverse collections, reflecting the history of early Vermont and associated areas of New York and Massachusetts. A new gallery, Bennington Modernism features works from the 1950s through 70s, created by a group of avant-garde artists working in and around Bennington. Group visits arefurther enhanced by the Hadwen Woods and the George Aiken Wildflower Trail.
No Berkshire group itinerary would be complete without a visit to one or more of our great museums. Here is a complete list of museums and historic sites in the Berkshires.
______________________Margit Hotchkiss is the Deputy Director for Audience and Business Development at Norman Rockwell Museum. Prior to joining the Museum, she worked with Shakespeare & Company, Berkshire Museum, Berkshire Theatre Festival and the Colonial, after leaving corporate marketing in the Washington, DC area.