Small-town life has a certain appeal. Maybe that’s why thousands of city-dwellers make pilgrimages to the bucolic landscape of the Berkshires every winter. It’s where a stack of buttermilk pancakes with fresh-tapped maple syrup followed by a day schussing down narrow, birch-lined trails constitutes a naturally purifying experience. Such folks should visit the Norman Rockwell Museum.
Located in Stockbridge, Mass., 15 miles from Jiminy Peak, the museum showcases Rockwell’s iconic work. The artist spent the last 25 years of his life in the Berkshires, enjoying small-town living in the heart of ski country from the 1950s to the 1970s. He bequeathed hundreds of paintings, drawings and even his studio to the museum, which is two miles from the center of town.
The museum displays 574 Rockwell originals and all 323 covers he illustrated for the
Saturday Evening Post
between 1916 and 1963. The images capture the milestones and moods of the 20th century, from Rosie the Riveter during the labor shortages of World War II to John F. Kennedy at his inauguration.
Children float happily through the museum, eyeing the images of youngsters with plaited hair and woolen mittens. Even in an age of iPods, kids seem to recognize themselves in the scenes: a misbehaving schoolgirl waiting to see the principal; a young skier testing his snowplow under Dad’s encouraging eye.
That scene, a 1961
cover titled “Ski Skills,” has the look of classic New England ski culture. But it isn’t the only work to demonstrate the artist’s appreciation for snow. “Ski Train,” from 1948, shows a bow-tied businessman sitting quietly amid a well-lubricated crowd of skiers.
Rockwell spent the first part of his life in cities, the rest in rural New England, living in tiny Arlington, Vt., before moving to Stockbridge in 1953. In both places, he cajoled neighbors into sitting as models, thus bringing the everyday faces of storekeepers, teachers and small-town cops into millions of homes. Some of his former models are still around, offering a personal perspective on the artist during occasional gallery talks this spring. So if your chairlift companion resembles a character from your favorite Rockwell illustration, don’t be surprised.
IF YOU GO
Open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and until 5 p.m. on weekends. $14; free for kids 18 and under.
- SKI MAGAZINE, MARCH/APRIL 2009