A fire in the parlor of the main house at the Inn at Stockbridge was a welcome sight, as my husband and I cozied up on a facing sofa, savoring a glass of house wine, delicious horseradish cheese with crackers, and settled in after a rainy drive from North Jersey. Having gotten a later start than intended, we fortuitously had arrived during the Inn’s courtesy social hour, a pleasant enough introduction to a wonderful weekend stay at this 1906 Georgian mansion haven set on12 pristine acres in the Berkshires.
We had planned this brief escape around a portrait demonstration and exhibit to be held the following day at the Norman Rockwell Museum, and as our host walked us to our accommodations in one of the recently renovated barn suites, we noted that like many things in Stockbridge, the Rockwell room paid homage to the town’s favored son with reproductions of the illustrator’s classics lining the walls. A four-poster bed center stage, cozy fireplace and comfy, cushioned settee also were standouts, as was the serene, wooded view from our back porch. Making up for lost time, we quickly stashed our bags and took to the road again (a short three-mile trek) to check out the town center before dinner.
America’s most famous Main Street still has that unspoiled small town feel as immortalized in many of Rockwell’s paintings. My husband and I enjoyed a pleasant stroll around the sleepy village exploring a few mom-and-pop establishments, most notably the charming old-fashioned emporium Williams and Sons Country Store. It was a nostalgic treat to lose ourelves amidst a treasure trove of retro bric-a-brac and goodies, which included a diverse mix of penny candies like Necco wafers and licorice strings. Other charming shops offer everything from upscale fashions and antiques to gourmet foods and wines. Staffed by friendly personnel, the shops encourage a confirmed pastime of mine—browsing.
With dinnertime close at hand, however, we cut that extravagance short and headed to the sprawling, circa 1773 Red Lion Inn for an enjoyable meal.
Immortalized in yet another Rockwell classic, “Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas,” the Inn returns the favor by displaying much of the artist’s work. We had reserved a table at Widow Bingham’s Tavern, which is less formal than their dining room and serves classic fare, including huge juicy hamburgers (enough for two), salads, hearty stews and other traditional favorites, even an interesting take on macaroni and cheese. A thriving bar scene and entertainment are a huge pre- and post-dinner plus. But after a long day’s journey into night, back at home base, a peaceful porch setting and delicious complimentary brandy nightcap beckoned, a fine way to top off any evening (filled decanters grace every room), before bedding down for a blissful night’s sleep.
We awoke to a glorious, sunny day, made even more so by a delightful candlelit breakfast of the lightest, most delicious fluffy pancakes I have ever tasted and lively tableside conversation with an entertaining group of fellow travelers. Lingering afterwards, we learned that our hosts, Alice and Len Schiller, also hailed from North Jersey, thus making for some engaging garden state discourse. The couple personifies the spirit of warm hospitality and operates their inn with uncommon dedication, attention to detail and genuine enthusiasm. They armed us with an area map and a list of “must see” activities, and we were off and running.
Visitors have long been attracted to the Berkshires for its pristine beauty, serenity and intoxicating assortment of cultural and artistic happenings and fine eateries. Topping everyone’s list is Tanglewood. The summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO), it celebrates its 75th anniversary season this year. Located between Lenox and Stratford, Massachusetts, Tanglewood will treat its fans this July to a gala event with appearances by John Williams, Keith Lockhart, James Taylor and Yo-Yo Ma performing with the BSO, Boston Pops and Tanglewood Music Center Orchestras. Surely a crowd pleaser!
Ranking as the second most visited cultural site in the region, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute (Williamstown) boasts a dramatic new way to view its renowned permanent collection. Visitors can now create their own virtual exhibition and engage with works using gallery computers and touchscreens, or personal devices. The “Clark Remix” gallery features some 80 paintings, 20 sculptures and 300 examples of decorative arts.
The region—with galleries galore—is an art lover’s dream. We chanced upon a rare find, DeVries Fine Art International in Lenox, which showcases the work of self-taught and world-renowned sculptor Andrew DeVries. Inspired early on by Degas, DeVries’ moving, dancing, fluid forms in bronze have been described as poetry in motion. That they are, and are rightly prized in noted collections such as that of the U. S. Library of Congress.
While still in Lenox, a visit to the magnificent Berkshire “Cottage” was another definite destination choice. Rescued from demolition and restored to its days of splendor as the former home of Sarah Morgan, sister of J.P Morgan, the not-for profit Ventnor Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum will be recognizable to movie buffs as the exterior set for the film The Cider House Rules. It is open for tours all year, and if you are lucky enough to be in town on the second Saturday of the month, trip the light fantastic for a good cause at “Dancin’ at the Mansion” nights ($25 per couple; $16 singles, refreshments included).
With so much to see and do in the Berkshires, a return visit is surely a must. Unfortunately for us, Stockbridge’s summer theatre season was not yet in full swing, but both the Main Stage and The Unicorn Theatre are famous for putting on professional shows featuring A- and B-list Hollywood and New York actors, and by all accounts, present great theatre. (Oh, well.. next time.)
Ending our visit on a high note, as part of the Norman Rockwell Museum’s Distinguished Illustrator Series, we welcomed the opportunity to witness artist Raymond Everett Kinstler’s portrait painting demonstration, as well as enjoyed a retrospective celebrating 70 years of this master portraitist’s work. We were not only mesmerized by the artist’s delightful commentary as he shared his experiences painting notables such as Tony Bennett, Katharine Hepburn and numerous presidents, but also his resulting paintings and the museum’s extensive permanent collection of its namesake’s work. As an artist myself, I found it a thoroughly fitting ending to a truly great escape weekend.
Louise B. Hafesh, an award-winning artist and journalist, is president of AdVantage Publications, Inc., an international editorial syndicate. She lives in Bergen County with her teenage daughter and husband, and can be reached at www.artworks-site.com.