Stockbridge Massachusetts: As Quaint as a Norman Rockwell Painting
The town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, about a 5 ½ hour drive from Buffalo, is as quaint as a Norman Rockwell painting. Not a surprise, since Rockwell, a prolific artist and illustrator who lived in Stockbridge from 1953 until his death in 1978, got much of his inspiration from the people and places in this BerkshireMountains town.
This summer, my family traveled to Massachusetts for our vacation and we decided to include a stay in Stockbridge on our itinerary. My husband and I had previously visited Stockbridge in the mid-1980’s and were anxious to return to see if the town still looked the same. While the town looks essentially the same as when Rockwell painted here, there definitely was more vehicular and foot traffic through the town than I remembered from my last visit. However, despite that, the town still maintains it small town quaintness.
Stockbridge’s Main Street has actually been immortalized in one of my favorite Rockwell paintings, “Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas,” which depicts Stockbridge as the typical rural New England town that it is. Rockwell began the illustration in the 1950’s, but didn’t finish it until the 1960’s.
Today, as one strolls through the town they can visit the buildings depicted in the painting: The Library has remained a library and the Antique Shop is a gift shop. The building that once housed one of Rockwell’s early studios is now home to Stockbridge General Store and an ice cream shop. The Williams & Son Country Store is still a country store and one of my favorite places to browse in, as they carried many unique hard-to-find items. The building that once housed the town offices is now a Yankee Candle shop and the bank is still a bank.
The building that dominates the Stockbridge streetscape is the Red Lion Inn, which is one of the few American inns that has been in continuous use since the 18th century. My husband and I stayed at the inn back in the 80’s; however we weren’t able to do that this summer, as we only spent one night in the area and the inn requires a two-night stay during the summer months. It is a very nice place to stay if you have the opportunity.
In December the Stockbridge Chamber of Commerce will be sponsoring “Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas: A Norman Rockwell Holiday Weekend.” The annual event, which takes place December 3rd-4th this year, has been described as a one-of-a-kind Christmas experience. Activities include a holiday house tour, caroling, a holiday concert and on Sunday December 4th from 12-2 pm, Rockwell’s painting will be recreated, compete with over 50 antique cars parked along Main Street. For more info contact the Stockbridge Chamber of Commerce 413-298-5200, www.stockbridgechamber.com
Museum dedicated to Norman Rockwell
One of the most popular attractions to visit in Stockbridge is the NormanRockwellMuseum, which is home to the world’s largest collection of original Rockwell art. Over 200,000 people visit the museum each year.
Rockwell’s paintings and drawings depict American life with warmth and humor. In his lifetime Rockwell created over 4,000 works of art; 3,000 of these are published. Since I really admire Rockwell’s work, visiting this museum was the highlight of my trip to Stockbridge.
The first thing we did upon entering the museum was top head down to the museum’s lower level to view a film about Rockwell’s life, which is narrated by the artist’s son, Peter. Norman Rockwell is probably best known for his Saturday Evening Post covers, which he illustrated from 1916 to the 1960’s. These covers, 323 in total, are displayed along the wall in the room where the film plays. Rockwell had an eye for detail and everyday drama. He loved to tell stories in his pictures and he also chronicled current events and social issues.
There are nine galleries on the museum’s main level; six that house the permanent collection and three that feature changing exhibits. The centerpiece of the permanent collection is a round gallery which houses Rockwell’s iconic Four Freedoms: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear, which he painted during WWII to depict the home front. These paintings also appeared as covers of the Saturday Evening Post.
A special exhibit that runs until November 11th is “A Dogs Life,” which features 55 illustrations of some of the four-legged friends that appeared in Rockwell’s paintings. Another special exhibit, which runs through October 31, is entitled Ice Age to the Digital Age: The 3-D Animation Art of Blue Sky Studios.
Be sure to allow time to stroll the 36 acres of manicured grounds the museum is located on. Rockwell’s studio, which was moved from the village of Stockbridge to the museum grounds in 1986, gives you a glimpse into where his artwork was created.
Norman Rockwell Museum, 9 Route 183, Stockbridge, MA 413-298-4100, www.nrm.org. Open daily 10:00 am-5:00 pm (until 4:00 pm November –April)
A serene and peaceful place
Another place we visited in Stockbridge was the National Shrine of Divine Mercy. This Roman Catholic Shrine is devoted to the revelation of Divine Mercy. It is home to a community of priests and brothers known as the Marians, who have lived here since 1944.
Visitors can enjoy peace and natural beauty at several outdoor shrines on the 350 acres of grounds. There is also a lovely chapel with 36 stained glass windows and two mosaics which portray the mercy of God through scripture. There are two daily Masses, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy at 3:00pm and other devotionals during the day. A large gift shop has a variety of religious articles, books, and videos.
National Shrine of Divine Mercy, 2 Prospect Hill Road, Stockbridge, MA 413-298-3931, www.thedivinemercy.org Daily 9:00 am-5:00 pm.
Other places of note in the Stockbridge area
Chesterwood. This was the country home and studio of Daniel Chester French (1850-1931); whose noted sculptures include the statue of Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. Chesterwood is located near the NormanRockwellMuseum.
Chesterwood, 413-298-3579, www.chesterwood.org Open daily from the end of May until mid-October.
The Mount. Located in nearby Lenox, The Mount was the home of writer Edith Wharton (1862-1937), who is considered one of America’s greatest authors. Some of her notable works include The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth. The estate includes a 42-room country home plus three acres of formal gardens.
The Mount, 413-551-5107, www.edithwharton.org
Tanglewood. Also located in Lenox, Tanglewood is a music venue which is the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. It was established back in the 1930’s by a group of music loving summer residents to the Berkshires. A music festival is held every summer and a Jazz festival takes place on Labor Day Weekend.
Tanglewood, 413-637-5180, www.tanglewood.org
From Buffalo, take the New York State Thruway (I-90) east to Albany. Near Albany, take the I-87 towards New York/Boston, to exit 21A which connects back with I-90 towards Boston. Continue east until you reach the Lee exit; follow signs towards Stockbridge.