This town, about a 5 1/2 -hour drive from Buffalo, is as quaint as a Norman Rockwell painting. Not a surprise, since Rockwell, a prolific artist and illustrator who lived in Stockbridge from 1953 until his death in 1978, got much of his inspiration from the people and places in this Berkshire Mountains town.
This summer, my family traveled to Massachusetts for our vacation and we decided to include a stay in Stockbridge on our itinerary. My husband and I had previously visited Stockbridge in the mid-1980s and were anxious to return to see if the town still looked the same. While the town looks essentially the same as when Rockwell painted here, there definitely was more vehicular and foot traffic through the town than I remembered. However, despite that, the town still maintains it small-town quaintness.
Stockbridge's Main Street has been immortalized in one of my favorite Rockwell paintings, "Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas," which depicts Stockbridge as the typical rural New England town that it is. Rockwell began the illustration in the 1950s but didn't finish it until the 1960s.
Today as visitors stroll through town, they can visit the buildings depicted in the painting: The Library has remained a library, and the Antique Shop is a gift shop. The building that once housed one of Rockwell's early studios is now home to Stockbridge General Store and an ice cream shop. The Williams & Son Country Store is still a country store and one of my favorite places to browse in, as they carry many unique and hard-to-find items. The building that once housed the town offices is now a Yankee Candle shop, and the bank is still a bank.
The building that dominates the Stockbridge streetscape is the Red Lion Inn, which is one of the few American inns that has been in continuous use since the 18th century. My husband and I stayed at the inn back in the '80s; however, we weren't able to do that on this visit as we only spent one night in the area and the inn requires a two-night stay during the summer months. It is a very nice place to stay if you have the opportunity.
In December the Stockbridge Chamber of Commerce will be sponsoring "Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas: A Norman Rockwell Holiday Weekend." The annual event, which takes place Dec. 3 and 4 this year, has been described as a one-of-a-kind Christmas experience. Activities include a holiday house tour, caroling, a concert and from noon to 2 p.m. Dec. 4, Rockwell's painting will be re-created, complete with more than 50 antique cars parked along Main Street. For more info, contact the Stockbridge Chamber of Commerce at (413) 298-5200 or visit www.stockbridgechamber.com.
One of the most popular attractions to visit in Stockbridge is the Norman Rockwell Museum, which is home to the world's largest collection of original Rockwell art. More than 200,000 people visit the museum each year.
Rockwell's paintings and drawings depict American life with warmth and humor. In his lifetime Rockwell created more than 4,000 works of art; 3,000 of these are published.
The first thing we did upon entering the museum was head to the museum's lower level to view a film about Rockwell's life, which is narrated by the artist's son, Peter. Norman Rockwell is probably best known for his Saturday Evening Post covers, which he illustrated from 1916 to the 1960s. These covers, 323 in total, are displayed along the wall in the room where the film plays. Rockwell had an eye for detail and everyday drama. He loved to tell stories in his pictures and he also chronicled current events and social issues.
There are nine galleries on the museum's main level; six that house the permanent collection and three that feature changing exhibits. The centerpiece of the permanent collection is a round gallery that houses Rockwell's iconic "Four Freedoms" series: "Freedom of Speech," "Freedom of Worship," "Freedom from Want" and "Freedom from Fear," which he painted during World Ward II to depict the home front. These paintings also appeared as covers of the Saturday Evening Post.
Be sure to allow time to stroll the 36 acres of the museum's manicured grounds. Rockwell's studio, which was moved from the village of Stockbridge to the museum grounds in 1986, gives a glimpse into where his artwork was created.
>Serene and peaceful
Another place to visit in Stockbridge is the National Shrine of Divine Mercy. This Roman Catholic shrine is devoted to the revelation of Divine Mercy. It is home to a community of priests and brothers known as the Marians, who have lived there since 1944.
Visitors can enjoy peace and natural beauty at several outdoor shrines on 350 acres. There is also a chapel with 36 stained glass windows and two mosaics that portray God's mercy in scripture. There are two daily Masses, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy at 3 p.m. and other devotionals throughout the day. A large gift shop has a variety of religious articles, books and videos.
>More to see
*Chesterwood. This was the country home and studio of Daniel Chester French (1850-1931), whose noted sculptures include the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Chesterwood is located near the Norman Rockwell Museum. Info: (413) 298-3579; www.chesterwood.org. Open daily from the end of May until mid-October.
*The Mount. Located in nearby Lenox, the Mount was the home of author Edith Wharton (1862-1937). Some of her notable works include "The Age of Innocence" and "The House of Mirth." The estate includes a 42-room country home plus three acres of formal gardens. Info: (413) 551-5107; www.edithwharton.org.
*Tanglewood. Also located in Lenox, Tanglewood is a music venue that is the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. It was established in the 1930s by a group of music-loving summer residents of the Berkshires. A music festival is held every summer, and a jazz festival takes place Labor Day weekend. Info: (413) 637-5180; www.tanglewood.org.
If you go
Norman Rockwell Museum, 9 Route 183, Stockbridge, Mass. (413) 298-4100; www.nrm.org. Open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily (until 5 p.m. May through October).
National Shrine of Divine Mercy, 2 Prospect Hill Road, Stockbridge, Mass. (413) 298-3931, www.thedivinemercy.org. Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Directions: From Buffalo, take the New York State Thruway (I-90) east to Albany. Take the I-87 toward New York/Boston to exit 21A, which connects back with I-90 toward Boston. Continue east until you reach the Lee exit; follow signs toward Stockbridge.