|October Mountain State Forest|
Arriving in the Stockbridge area, we set up camp at October Mountain State Forest. The 16,500-acre forest is the largest in Massachusetts and is known for it’s extensive trail system. Unfortunately, during the week of our visit, frequent rain prevented exploration on the trails. Coming to the area for Alan to participate in a Mel Stabin watercolor workshop at Berkshires School of Art, I spent my time exploring other attractions. This highlands region of western Massachusetts, known as the Berkshires, is known for art and music.
Tanglewood, in Stockbridge, is the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the site of numerous classical, jazz and popular music concerts through the summer season. The beautiful campus was open but the stage is silent this time of year.
There are number of older homes in the area open for tours, but Naumkeab, is known for its beautiful gardens, so I opted to do a tour of this property. The 44-room summer home of John and Caroline Choate, was completed in 1865. John was an attorney and U.S. Ambassador to England. The property is considered a prime example of Gilded-Age style and is surrounded by well-designed gardens. The Choate’s daughter, Mabel, inherited the house in 1929. As an avid gardener, she worked with noted landscape architect, Fletcher Steele, to create exceptional gardens. The well-known Blue Steps, designed by Fletcher, are the most outstanding and unique feature in the gardens. Gently flowing down a hillside, the steps are graced with a fountain that flows through the different levels and are accented by white railing and surrounded by birch trees.
|Norman Rockwell Museum|
|Alan's rendition of the studio|
Alan’s plein air group selected the beautiful grounds of the Norman Rockwell Museum, for one of their outings. Rockwell’s Stockbridge studio was moved to the property in 1986, and was the subject of Alan’s painting for the day. The Museum houses the world’s largest collection of the works of this American icon. Dozens of The Saturday Evening Post magazine covers line the walls. For 47 years he painted covers for the publication, followed by 10 years as an illustrator for Look magazine. His works reflected, “the America I knew and observed.
|Round Stone Barn at Hancock Village|
As Alan’s plein air group painted at the Upper Mountain Horse Farm, outside Stockbridge, I drove to the Hancock Shaker Village in nearby Pittsfield. I planned to sightsee for a couple hours, but the stop expanded into a full day visit. The village was established in 1783 and continued to function as a religious community until 1960, when the last few church members left to join another village and the property was sold and preserved by the new owners as an historic site. Named Shakers because of the dance, which was part of their worship service, their religion is based on total equality of the sexes, communal living, pacifism and celibacy. Members come to the religion as adult converts.
The existing Museum covers 700 acres and includes 21 building. Shakers were known for their craftsmanship on furniture, boxes, and baskets, and also for their gardens and seeds. The current gardens are kept up by a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture.) The Shaker community embraces technology, so electricity, cars and computers are part of their lives. The decline of the religious group is attributed to the industrial revolution, which reduced demand for their quality, but expensive handmade products.
Our visit to the area culminated with the Berkshires Botanical Gardens Harvest Festival. Over 200 vendors participated in the event, which also included local entertainment. Hayrides, a hay maze, hay jump and horse rides were available for the kids. Food choices ranged from grilled bratwurst to butternut bisque. We met a delightful woman (73 years old) who swore that a glass of warm milk with maple syrup each morning provided what she needed for her daily 50 miles bike ride. Of course, she was selling maple syrup, but she was a swirling dervish of energy. (Maybe this is something we should try.) The Festival was a perfect ending to our stay.
|Part of Naumkeag Gardens|
|Upper Mountain Horse Farm|
|Alan with one of the local critics|
|Dormitory at Hancock Village|
|Interior of Round Stone Barn|
|At the Festival|
|At the Festival|
|Norman Rockwell's Runaway|