By Kelly McIlquham
Where can you become a mad scientist and conduct experiments using common household items? Create refrigerator-worthy masterpieces in an Art Lab? Become the lead animator of your very own stop-action film? Visit with world-renowned children’s book authors and illustrators? Or get up close and personal with a bird of prey? You guessed it. The Berkshires is home to dozens of museums that provide visitors hours of educational family fun where the kids will never even know they’re learning.
One of our family’s favorite museums is housed in a small storefront on Main Street in Lee — The Museum of Animagic. Entrance to the museum is free, the only fallback being that registration is required ahead of time (this is not for the spontaneous drop-in types). But it is super easy to get an appointment seven days a week, 365 a year, so don’t let that deter you from the fun to be had at this little gem. You’ll be guided around the facility by Academy Award-winning animator Eugene Mamut and discover the Berkshire’s pivotal role in the animation of films like “Predator,” “Chicken Run,” and “The Matrix.” Then for a small fee, kids will have the opportunity to make their own stop-action animation film and view it uploaded on the web later that day. The Museum of Animagic is a definite must-see museum for families visiting the Berkshires!
Another Berkshire family favorite of ours is the world-renowned Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. This is where we met artist Peter de Seve, who has worked in both the illustration and animation fields. You might be familiar with a few of his famous characters such as Scrat, the squirrel, or Diego, the saber-toothed tiger, from the “Ice Age” films. We’ve got a personal sketch of Diego in the front cover of “The Duchess of Whimsy.” Written by de Seve’s wife, Randall, whom we also met. It was illustrated, of course, by Peter himself. We also have admired some superhero art courtesy of Alex Ross, attended the annual High School Art Show on several occasions and enjoyed several family-focused events and guests speakers through the years. Our kids are enamored with the artwork of Norman Rockwell himself. His art transcends generations, parents and kids alike (if they weren’t before) will leave fans of Rockwell and his artwork after a visit to this family-friendly Berkshire museum.
Free Family Days and special no-cost Kidspace galleries at world-class museums like The Clark Art Institute and Williams College Museum of Art in Williamstown and MASS MoCA in North Adams also cater to families with children. Making it part of their mission to display classic and contemporary artwork (selected for their “educational and artistic merit”) in their Kidspace galleries, and provide hands-on art experiences to visitors. These aren’t “kiddified” exhibits and art projects either. They are guaranteed to appeal to family members of all ages. Leaving visitors with a newfound appreciation for the world of art — as well as a creation of their own to take home.
Let’s not forget the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield. Throughout the year, the museum hosts free educational family nights. Their annual Pajama Night and Get Ready for Kindergarten events are among even more events that delight the little ones. Kids can explore a number of educational activities in the museum’s Spark! Lab. Imagine their own invention in the Innovation; take in some family friendly theater; feed a marine animal in the aquarium during weekly Chow Times, and explore so much more! So be sure to put this museum on your to-do list.
No matter one’s age or interest, museums in the Berkshires will not disappoint. Parents and kids will want to return to these local gems, and others again and again. Seriously, what parent doesn’t dream of providing kids with a day of fun they won’t forget. One that will also provide an educational experience that will stay with them for years to come? Sounds like a win-win all around. Don’t you think?