Barbara and I have just returned from a mini-vacation, which we were able to squeeze in between the end of Crimson Summer Academy and the beginning of workshops for Weston High School. We decided we would spend three days in the Berkshires, as it would be a bit of a break and yet wasn’t too far to drive in a few hours. In keeping with our initial intention to see the Van Gogh exhibit at the Clark, museums ended up ruling the vacation: five of them in three days.
We stayed at an oh-so-traditional New England inn, the Williams Inn at Williams College in Williamstown. It was quite nice — nothing spectacular, but we had an attractive spacious room, along with a bathroom that had both a tub and a pentagonal stall shower (five cheers for pentagons!). The enhanced continental breakfast that was included in the price of the room included not only the usual assortment of carbs but also a variety of proteins: ham, cheddar cheese, and hard-boiled eggs. We had dinner there on Thursday — again nothing spectacular, but I was able to have delicious lamb chops!
So…back to the museums: we decided to start with the main event, “Van Gogh and Nature” at the Clark. It exceeded our expectations. Not only did we get to see about a hundred Van Gogh works (mostly on loan from other museums), but we also saw related works from other artists (sometimes the inspirations for Van Gogh’s paintings) as well as a good deal of historical context and explanatory material. Informative and enjoyable.
As long as we were in Williamstown, after an excellent lunch at a Turkish restaurant we moved on to the Williams College Museum of Art, where we enjoyed the works of Maurice and Charles Prendergast and an exhibit on Imagining the Trojan War.
And then there was the small but interesting Williamstown Historical Museum, where we learned about the history of the town in the context of earlier centuries.
Before leaving Williamstown, we should point out that there were many ways in which it became clear that Williamstown isn’t Boston. For instance, when crossing at a crosswalk, one is admonished to stop, look, and wave:
We did that.
On Saturday we drove to Lenox and Stockbridge. (“Alice‘s Restaurant,” anyone?) We expected to have a brief visit at the Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum in Lenox, but we ended up spending several enjoyable hours because there was so much to see and learn in this fairly small museum! There was the usual assortment of old train cars and a functioning short-line train (very short: about 3 minutes), but several items contrasted with the typical railroad museum. The principal difference was that the guide in this case was not the all-too-typical railroad geek (strong on knowledge but weak on people skills); this guide was a former teacher of AP Government and US History, so it’s not too surprising that he was a great communicator and that his knowledge provided social and historical contexts for everything. So instead of just walking through a caboose, sitting in an old passenger car, and looking at a locomotive, we were treated to detailed explanations of all three — too detailed for some, especially one of the kids on the tour — but I thought it was great.
To match our traditional inn in Williamstown, we had lunch in Stockbridge at the oh-so-traditional Red Lion Inn. We were definitely not the oldest people there! But the lunch was good and the service was fine.
After that we visited the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. We didn’t go there because of any interest in Rockwell; we just went to see the Roz Chast exhibit. You probably know Chast from her New Yorker cartoons — or perhaps from her books — so nothing would surprise you about this three-room set of cartoons. There was a wide range, along with some explanatory text. Unfortunately the exhibit did not include her most important cartoon (in my totally unbiased view):