Western Massachusetts: Craft in the Mountains
Western Massachusetts: Craft in the Mountains
As the ice melts away on the thick pines of Western Massachusetts the residents are beginning to prepare for the upcoming summer tourist season. The events began early this year with the opening of a new wing in the Berkshire Museum at the end of March. By the beginning of June everything will be in full swing with a constant lineup of exhibits and events that include the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival and performances at Tanglewood. "There's an influx of people from New York and Boston," says Stephanie Hoadley, owner of Hoadley Gallery in Lenox and the wife of ceramist Thomas Hoadley. "They're the sort of people who appreciate art and craft. It's low-key and sophisticated at the same time."
"We call it BFS-Berkshire Fatigue Syndrome," says Leslie Ferrin, owner of Ferrin Gallery in Pittsfield, located right in the center of the Berkshires, of the exhaustion that comes with the summer. "There are so many things going on it's almost impossible to keep up." Ferrin speaks from experience having lived in Western Massachusetts for 30 years. As a leading voice of the craft community and a board member of Berkshire Creative, which serves as a portal connecting local culture and businesses, Ferrin is an active part of the renaissance that Pittsfield is currently experiencing. Originally a potter, she opened Pinch Pottery, a studio and showroom in Northampton, in the neighboring Pioneer Valley in 1979. Deciding she preferred the business side of craft, she opened Ferrin Gallery in Northampton in 1987 before moving to Lenox in 2002, and finally to Pittsfield last year.
Ferrin's involvement in the arts community is not unusual for local residents. Suky Werman, who with her husband, Tom, owns the Stonover Farm inn and the Barn Gallery, which showcases craft along with fine art and is located on the property, compares the area to a college campus where everyone has something to offer and supports others in their endeavors. "There is an openness to this community," she says. The Wermans moved to the Berkshires in 2002 after living in Los Angeles for 25 years, where Tom was a music producer and Suky a teacher. While their Hollywood lifestyle may have been glamorous, the couple decided they needed a change. They began searching for a place to open a bed-and-breakfast, and when Tom drove past Stonover Farm, he knew he'd discovered exactly what they were looking for.
"It's an area that has a constant ebb and flow to it," explains Sienna Patti, owner of Sienna Gallery, of the Berkshires' appeal, especially to craftspeople. Patti, who is the daughter of the noted glass artist Tom Patti, has lived in the area her entire life, aside from her college years spent at New York University. "The quality of life has a slow food aspect. You can make time in your life to be more thoughtful when you don't have the hustle and bustle around you, and craft stems from thoughtfulness."
The strong art scene in the Berkshires is partly the result of the overflow of artists from Pioneer Valley, some 25 miles away, which experienced its own artistic flowering several decades ago. Geoffrey Post, who with his wife, Linda, founded the Paradise City Arts Festival, a bi-annual art and craft event, saw the surge when she and her husband moved to Northampton in the late 1970s. "We were in the right place in the right time," she says. "It just all came together. It was around 1979 or '80 when the renaissance really started to happen."
A three-day-weekend tour of the Berkshires and Pioneer Valley provides a taste of all that the area offers-although it is too spread out to see it all. Many credit the local colleges-University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst College, Smith, Hampshire and Mount Holyoke-for the vibrant culture. "There's an intellectual life out there," glassblower Josh Simpson says. "You can see or listen to a plethora of interesting speakers. There's always great music to listen to."
"There is a historical vernacular to the culture," adds Mark Shapiro, a ceramist who grew up in New York City but, like many craftspeople, found Western Massachusetts to be the perfect place to settle down. "The architecture is aesthetically beautiful and we still have the cultural access," he says.
Because of the nature of their work, many makers could choose to live anywhere in the world, but most don't see themselves leaving. "Besides the cold winters there really aren't any negative aspects to living here," explains Hoadley. "I love the tenor of the place. The people who choose to settle in the Berkshires tend to be a little more progressive." And, of course, the beauty of the area is undeniable, as Simpson points out. "I look out my window," he says, "and I see where the earth meets the sky."