The normally vacant downtown streets become vibrant again with help from the North Adams Open Studios
Holly Huffstutler, Assistant A&E Editor
A large part of the PR that draws visitors and college students to the Berkshires is that it is an artist colony, “America’s cultural playground.” At first glance, North Adams doesn’t live up to this standard. But, that’s because most of the local art has been in hiding. Last weekend, it was all boldly on display.A large part of the PR that draws visitors and college students to the Berkshires is that it is an artist colony, “America’s cultural playground.” At first glance, North Adams doesn’t live up to this standard. But, that’s because most of the local art has been in hiding. Last weekend, it was all boldly on display.
At the second annual North Adams Open Studios, 86 artists displayed their work to bands of curious art lovers who arrived every 15 minutes on a trolley that took them to and from venues on Main, Eagle and Summer Sts, Heritage State Park, Mass MOCA and Windsor, Eclipse and Beaver Mills.
The displays downtown seemed like the typical art fair. Artists displayed their wares either in working stores or empty storefronts. An overwhelming number of people streamed in and out of them to see the wide variety of art contained within. The venues that have art displayed year round, Like Gallery 51’s paintings and Suncatcher’s crafts, were blended in with the places that will hold small exhibits for a short time, like Cup and Saucer and Papyri Books. What was most heartening to see was the normally and depressingly empty spaces on Main St filled with people .
There was a healthy variety in art forms to see in addition to the standard, but not boring, displays of photography and painting. Wood carvers and clothing designers were displayed along side more traditional art.
Like Jane Hudson’s pictures, which expose both the history and integrity of our town’s familiar sights and their partial ruination. The most impressive of these variants was William LaBerge’s serenely simple Mission-style furniture.
Some of the art that laid outside the traditional seems designed to make the visitors giggle. Over in the Gallery 51 Annex, two pieces from Greylock Arts amused. One, a solar powered xylophone that struck notes whenever the solar cells absorbed enough power. Another, made out of MIDI software and what looked like four cut-off microphone stands arranged in a square. Visitors controlled the tone and speed of the so-called music depending on which one was touched.
Music was represented in addition to the visual arts. Folk singer Brandee Simone, a senior at the College, enchanted her large audience at Cup and Saucer and her small audience at Skyboro Sound. Drums could be heard all over Heritage State Park,
the source: a lively drum circle at Northern Berkshire Creative Arts.
An observably different experience from gazing at paintings in stores awaited visitors at the various lofts opened for these two days at the three mills. The viewers were allowed to see the artists in their natural habitat.
Apparently, that natural habitat is a gorgeous loft in one of the old mills that dominate the town’s architecture. They’re living in dream apartments basically. The danger in letting the art lovers see their private spaces is that, unless the art is impressive, the viewer might walk away thinking not “what a beautiful and interesting photograph” but “what a fabulous loft, who do I talk to about a lease agreement?”
Luckily the art is impressive enough to be held at equal reverence with the studio lofts. As unusual as it is to look up at a painting then look down to find that you are standing in someone’s living room, its even more unusual to be one of the artists and have hundreds of people they don’t know tramping throughtheir work and living spaces.
Eclipse Mill Artists Joshua Field and Michael Chapman didn’t seemed bothered by this, but rather saw it as a way to show their work to previously unheard from audiences.
Field was particularly thrilled by kid’s reactions to his art, he noticed that they didn’t “project their own baggage” onto his whimsical infused paintings like adults do. “What I’m taking out of this Open Studios experience is that little kids rock, ” he said approvingly.
Chapman had his studio visited by Vice President of Academic Affairs Steve Green, who joked “What you really need is more color” Chapman, who is the creator of overwhelming sculptures spattered in riotous color droplets, said that what’s more unusual than the invasion of his space “is the oblivion that I normally live in” referring to his obscurely located and usually unattended studio.
Painter Rachel Carson, who organized the event admitted that “It’s not the norm for an artist to have hundreds of people tromping through.”
Unnatural invasion aside, this project did what this town has been desperately trying for the past few years; it got people interested in what the town has to offer: great art in beautiful old mills.