Much of the northern Berkshires were once dotted with textile and paper mills. That industry is long gone but paper maker, Crane & Co. still operates. When I was growing up in the area, you could still take field trips to the Crane Paper Mill – to an actual production line and watch paper being made. Seeing the porridge-thick pulp make its way thru various washes and steamy vats was fascinating and the swatch book of Crane specialty papers was a nifty gift. While you can’t see an actual production line anymore, you can visit the Crane Museum of Papermaking in Dalton. Housed in what was the Rag Room of Crane’s 1844 Old Stone Mill, the museum is open June through October.
Turn of the century mills form a distinct architectural feature of the Berkshires – especially in the northern part of the county, where vacant factories converted to museums, artists’ studios, and other kinds of mixed-use spaces are becoming an increasingly valued asset in attracting new residents and industry to the community. These renovated spaces may no longer be home to textile or paper mass production, but many other things can and do get manufactured in them – all of them equally fascinating to see in production.
The Eclipse Mill in North Adams houses several artists including Phil and Gail Sellers and their enterprise, River Hill Pottery. Taking up a huge chunk of the ground floor, River Hill Pottery makes handcrafted, hand coiled and woven ceramic baskets that can be found in numerous shops and galleries around the country. They are almost always at work, in the studio and open to visitors. Further along route 8 is the Beaver Mill, home to The Gravity Press Experimental Print Shop. Founded and run by a master printer, Brandon Graving, the Gravity Press features a titanic, custom-made, 5′ x 11′ hydraulic Platen press, one of the largest of its kind in the world. Its an astounding effort inspired in part by the historic mill itself.
“Downstreet Art”, a summer-long art event that occupies numerous gallery spaces and spans the whole of downtown in North Adams, kicks off on June 20. This year’s theme is “Beyond Industry”. I’m betting there’ll be some thought-provoking work.