Arts and Culture

It’s no surprise that the Western Massachusetts landscape has inspired artists and thinkers for centuries. Poet William Cullen Bryant wrote an ode to aging called “The Rivulet” inspired by a bubbling brook at his childhood home in Cummington. And Herman Melville dedicated his final novel, Pierre, to “Greylock’s Most Excellent Majesty,” describing the state’s highest peak as his “sovereign lord and king.” Check out the region’s performing arts centers, galleries and museums and see what others have been inspired to create.

Famous figures

The byways region has worked its magic on many authors and artists who have lived or traveled in the area. Edith Wharton’s historic estate is on the eastern side of Laurel Lake in Lee. The Zoar Outdoor building in Charlemont was the childhood home of Charles Dudley Warner, an essayist, poet, and co-writer of the novel The Gilded Age with his friend Mark Twain. Herman Melville, author of Moby-Dick, had a home in Pittsfield, and is said to have coined the name October Mountain because he could see the peak’s fall colors so vividly from his house. American artist Thomas Cole painted landscapes around the byways region, including “View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm,” now a visitor favorite at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

World-class museums

Three celebrated museums lie within a few miles of each other in North Adams and Williamstown. The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art has helped transform the industrial city of North Adams with its innovative exhibitions and public performances. The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown is nestled in the woods and highlights European Old Master paintings, French Impressionism and American artists like Winslow Homer. The Williams College Museum of Art, on a charming, quintessentially New England college campus, has grown into a strong collection thanks in part to the generosity of decades of alumni. The Five Colleges area is home to museums and galleries affiliated with Amherst, Smith, Hampshire and Mount Holyoke Colleges, and UMass Amherst.

Emerging artists and master artisans

You’ll find fine arts and artisan galleries in many towns along the byways. For example, the Becket Arts Center is a small gallery with rotating exhibitions by local artists. The picturesque village of Shelburne Falls is home to many galleries and artist studios that are open to the public; some of the best glass art in the country is found here. In summer, the City of North Adams sponsors DownStreet Art, an event that highlights art throughout the city’s museums, galleries and shops.

performing arts come alive

The Berkshire Hills have a reputation for internationally acclaimed summer series and festivals, including Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Lenox. Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket draws thousands to some of the best contemporary, ballet and international dance performances in the world. Smaller festivals thrive too. The Williamstown Theater Festival consistently receives accolades, including a Tony award for Outstanding Regional Theater. The Mohawk Trail Concert Series has been bringing national and local musicians together in the superb acoustics of Charlemont’s Federated Church for more than 40 years. The Sevenars Music Festival in South Worthington has been going strong since 1968 and was voted one of six “best small music festivals in the USA” by Timemagazine.

The School at Jacob's Pillow Jazz/Musical Theatre Dance Program performing as part of the free Inside/Out performance series, PHOTO: 2010 BY CHRISTOPHER DUGGAN. COURTESY OF JACOB'S PILLOW DANCE

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