Sunday, June 20, 2004

Rockwell and DuBois

Saturday my wife and I drove out to the Berkshires. We wanted to see Santarella, a house built by and for sculptor Henry Hudson Kitson in the 1920s. Supposedly, the house was made into a museum: we tried to visit once before, but it was closed for the season. This time, it appeared to be closed forever: no one was there, signs up suggested that it was for sale, and the rooms appeared to be empty from the outside. I took what pictures that I could. The home has an organic form, apparently built around existing rocks jutting out from the earth, with a curved roof.

We were stuck trying to find something else to do. We drove into the center of Stockbridge to look around at the (unmanned) tourism booth. The day was already late, and many things were either too far away or were about to close. We decided to see the Norman Rockwell Museum. Neither of us were necessarily fans of Rockwell’s work, but we thought it might be interesting.

The museum revealed qualities of Rockwell’s works of which we were unaware. Usually portrayed as an illustrator of tradition and sentiment, Normal Rockwell had a certain social conscience that is not celebrated. Among his later works were painting concerning the activities of the Peace Corps abroad–paintings that he made based on his visits to African and South American countries when he was in his late seventies. The painting “Christmas in Bethlehem” shows a group of pilgrims filing into a church as they are watched over by two IDF soldiers, a Muslim, and a Jew. There was an exhibit dealing with one of his children’s books, and one dealing with his illustrations of life in Stockbridge. The centerpiece of the museum are the sketches, photographs, and models used for his painting “Murder in Mississippi” (based on the same incident as the film “Mississippi Burning”).

The grounds of the museum also contained Rockwell’s studio, which is modest and not exceptional, and a sculpture garden with a few interesting works.

It was after 5 pm by the time we left the museum. On a whim, we decided to visit Great Barrington (which we had never seen). It took longer than it ought too–we took a circuitous route to the town. The downtown area is swank and elegant, with expensive restaurants and galleries. On the exterior it had the charm of a town that time forgot: many of the signs and storefronts looked like they ought to have in the early 1960s and all in good condition.

The most interesting thing in Great Barrington was a mural of WEB DuBois that was painted on a wall in a parking lot/square. It dealt with events of his life evocatively. DuBois was born in Great Barrington. The mural is very effective with its use of black paint on the white surface, but my favorite section shows DuBois orating, his hands extended outwardly (and painted red). Unfortunately we did not get to see the DuBois Homesite.


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