By Ellen Creager, Detroit Free Press (MCT)
9:46 AM PST, November 14, 2011
STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. — The best thing about Stockbridge is the Norman Rockwell Museum. And the best thing about the Norman Rockwell Museum is its focus on American illustrators.
This month, the museum showcased art from animators who created the film "Ice Age." Original drawings showed the meticulous skill still required to create these moving works of art — computers don't invent ideas, after all, humans still do.
In November come three new exhibits — "Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Margret and H.A. Rey," "Pop-Up! The Magical World of Movable Books " and "Norman Rockwell and the Ghost of Dickens," marking the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens' birth.
The admirable thing is that these exhibits generously complement but don't compete with the original collection of 574 Rockwell paintings.
At the moment, all the "good stuff" is here, not on the road. You can see the "Four Freedoms" paintings from World War II and other iconic Rockwell Americana that defined an age.
You do not need to be an art expert to appreciate this museum, to laugh or to be moved. That is good.
Rockwell lived in Stockbridge the last 25 years of his life. But his impact on the insulated town of 2,000 is lasting. While attractions in the Berkshires abound — the Tanglewood music festival, Canyon Ranch spa, stately homes of novelists Edith Wharton and Herman Melville — the Rockwell Museum remains one of the biggest draws in the region, with 122,000 visitors a year.
On Dec. 3-4, the whole town will get together to re-create a famous image — "Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas," a painting Rockwell completed in 1967. In it, twinkling lights on the clapboard buildings shine as dusk descends on the snowy scene — a classic small-town New England holiday, all cares far, far away.
The effort to re-create the painting each December started 21 years ago.
The town itself has changed little over the years, on purpose. But the celebration has grown, drawing up to 50 vintage cars, visitors from nearby states and encompassing more events, including a holiday homes tour, Santa, horse-drawn rides, caroling and a concert.
The actual Rockwell Christmas re-creation is noon-2 p.m. Dec. 4.
"We are re-creating more the feel of a hometown New England Christmas, not an actual re-creation of the painting. We close the street from the post office to the Red Lion Inn," says Barbara Zanetti, executive director for the Stockbridge Chamber of Commerce.
She said last year, it even snowed. How artistic.
The December event is a fund-raiser for the Chamber of Commerce, so tickets are needed (print out the form at http://www.stockbridgechamber.org/christmas.html and mail).
Separately, the Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum (Polar Express) runs Nov. 25-27 and Dec. 3, 4, 10 and 11. The Berkshire Botanical Garden has a holiday marketplace Dec. 2-4.
If you miss all these events in December, never mind. You can still immerse yourself in Rockwell charm, no matter when you go. A lot of the stately homes, music venues and theaters are closed in the winter, but the Rockwell Museum is open all year.
Just walk down Main Street. Have a pint at the Red Lion Tavern. Shop.
Look up, and it seems as if the painter might be looking down from that big picture window in the center of Main Street, noticing the world, smoking his pipe, putting brush to paper in this dreamlike, time-warp town.
IF YOU GO
GETTING THERE: Stockbridge is in the Berkshires, the mountainous region of western Massachusetts. By air, fly into Hartford, Conn., then drive 1 1 / 2 hours, or into Albany, N.Y. (1 hour).
LODGING: The area is full of elegant inns, mansions, hotels and spas. Here are two choices:
—Red Lion Inn, Stockbridge: Iconic hotel in business since the 1770s (regular weekend rate now through Dec. 31, $195-$245; http://www.redlioninn.com, 413-298-5545).
—Hampton Inn & Suites, Lenox: Lower-priced alternative (weekend rate, $126-$189; http://www.berkshirehampton.com, 413-499-1111).
—Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge. The home of illustrator Rockwell's famous paintings ($16 adults, $5 ages 6-18; http://www.nrm.org, 413-298-4100).
—Laura's Tower, Stockbridge. Most tourists don't get up here, but sturdy folks can hike the trail, which rises 600 vertical feet, then climb up a 35-step metal tower for a view of three states. The view is amazing. Bring a walking stick. (Enter the path in town at the end of Park Street, across the Housatonic River footbridge. Free .)
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown. Unfortunately, nearly all of the museum's famed Impressionist artworks — 73 of them — are away on tour for three years, but it's still worth visiting for the Winslow Homer, Frederic Remington and John Singer Sargent paintings. (Free Oct. 11-May 31; $15 for adults in summer; http://www.clarkart.edu, 413-458-2303.)
—Tanglewood, Lenox. Home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in summer and a nice place to stroll in the fall and winter. (Free, 297 West, Lenox.)
—More attractions include the Mount, the mansion of novelist Edith Wharton; the home where Herman Melville penned "Moby Dick"; Chesterwood, home of Daniel Chester French, who sculpted the statue of Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial; Kripalu, a famous yoga and health center; the historical Hancock Shaker Village, and several theaters. For information on these and more, see http://www.berkshires.org and http://www.stockbridgechamber.org.
WHEN IN THE BERKSHIRES
—Eat as much clam chowder as possible. This is Massachusetts. They know how to make it, even in the western part of the state.
—Expect cell phone service to be spotty.
—Stop in and see Simon, the black and white cat who lives at the Red Lion Inn. He often is lounging on the front porch.
—If you drive through the town of Lee, stop at the public library (100 Main St.) and see a rare platinum print of an 1860 photo of new president Abraham Lincoln. It casually hangs behind the front desk.
—If you are on I-91 heading back to the Hartford, Conn., airport, stop at the little-known but extremely cool Dinosaur Footprints in Holyoke (exit 18 then south on Route 5). The 190-million-year-old prints were made by carnivorous dinos that stood about 15 feet tall.
—If you have about $3,000 to spend in three days, stay at Canyon Ranch, a famous spa in Lenox.
Ellen Creager: email@example.com