Dominique is the author of Walk in Boston & Walk in NYC, two sites with 18 self-guided tours to visit Boston or New York on foot.
How can the American Spirit be good?
To reach North Adams and the Berkshires from Boston, you'll surely take the Mohawk Trail in Massachusetts and go through the Pioneer Valley. From New York, the scenic Taconic Parkway will be a good option to go to Massachusetts and then find a smaller road to your final destination.
Both options will give you plenty of opportunities to reflect on the names of the places you go through, especially all the Native American ones. They will remind you in a subtle way that the development of the country has often been at the expense of parts of its previous population.
Knowing that, how will you still be able to believe that the American Spirit is good?
That's what we'll explore in this article about 3 museums in the Berkshires.
The Clark Institute
Your first destination is near North Adams, long an industrial stronghold where fortunes were made thanks to the thousands of people who worked there in huge factories.
You'll have to imagine the investments and the opportunities that arose in this small town surrounded by round mountains. A miracle of ingenuity, no less.
Then everything suddenly disappeared when the Far East became the new frontier with its masses of easily exploitable workers.
However, some descendants of those who had benefited the most from this first boom in the mountains began to travel to Europe and collect Impressionist paintings. They also invested in older works until they had an impressive collection that they wanted to show to everyone.
They came back to the Berkshires and near North Adams, in Williamstown to be exact, Mr. and Mrs. Clark, heirs to the Singer empire, built a white marble property in the middle of a large expanse of land.
It was the birth of the Clark Institute which exhibits masterpieces of art from the Middle Ages up to the 1900s and has one of the largest art research libraries in the country. It now attracts thousands of visitors and students who are once again making the fortune of the place.
Some 35 years later, the factories in North Adams were empty and the town was losing its soul.
The Williams College, situated next to the Clark Institute and itself home to a impressive Museum of Art, was looking for a place to exhibit large works.
It made a deal with the city of North Adams and the former owners of the empty warehouses, then opened MassMoca, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Quickly, it became one of the largest contemporary art museums in the eastern United States.
Its post-industrial style now influences heaps of renovations of the same style but for more mercantile motives, from malls in New York City to real estate renovations in other old factories across the country.
The monumental works it houses requires months of installation and tens of volunteers. It generates new activities with a lot less workers but a lot more tourists. It also gradually upsets the conceptions of art and the role of artists.
And as there is no shortage of derelict buildings, they are slowly renovated thanks to donations from wealthy patrons. Something emerges again in that place and it once again transforms it.
Norman Rockwell Museum
An hour away from these two institutions, Norman Rockwell moved to Stockbridge in 1953. Already famous, he continued there to portray the everyday life of the country.
His museum is built near his house and his workshop, in the middle of the countryside that trails will allow you to explore once your visit is over.
You'll discover that behind all those tender and warm illustrations that you have seen a thousand times on heaps of media, there are months of preliminary work and that each has been done in oils on large canvases. That they are teeming with realistic details that make them period documents. That sometimes they were commissioned to advertise cereal brands or telephone companies.
The rediscovery of the American Spirit
Norman Rockwell brings you back to the quintessence of the American Spirit in all his works, his faith in human rights, his tender gaze on childhood, his love of technical inventions, his depiction of family celebrations, his patient and meticulous work and the values that it implies.
But this spirit also exists at MassMoca which is a hymn to reinvention, to change, to possibilities, a showcase for imagination, exploration, challenges. It is the miracle of a different revival in a dying city and the preservation of the memory in these testimonies of former workers displayed all over the museum. It is the affirmation that will and money can create beauty and thus influence generations to come.
That's what the Clark Institute says too: the American Spirit, it means following your passions to create a unique work, in that case a collection of masterpieces, and then share it with everyone. It is taking but ultimately giving back to the community under another form.
Which brings us back to the Iroquois and the pioneers of the start. Yes, the latter kicked the first ones off their land. Yet they also created something new and brought about transformations which enhanced the life of everyone.
The American Spirit is the belief in the possibility of moving mountains and if one can wonder for what purpose, the answer is undoubtedly in the work of James Turrell who occupies a whole wing of MassMoca with his strange creations focused on light.
Somewhere in Arizona, Turrell bought a crater. He has been remodeling it for years now. Patiently and thoroughly. When it is finished, visitors will have twenty different views of the sky, immersed in white spaces intended to play with light.
It will be unique and spectacular. Useless but sought after. It will also create a new economy as it will require housing and occupying tourists in many other ways. An economy born from a mountain, although overturned, and the imaginative will of an individual.
This is what this walk in the Berkshires reminds us: the spirit of conquest is found everywhere and it can produce masterpieces everywhere. It creates opportunities, transforms lives, brings dreams.
This is why you have to go to the Berkshires. So as not to forget that the adventure is still around and that the somewhat far away places are always a source of renewal. That with determination and steadfastness, things come true.
Now if you want to know more about the industrial past of the Berkshires and the history of North Adams, don't hesitate to have a look at this book below.
In any case, enjoy your visit.