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» Friday, October 15, 2010Light in the Darkness
We had a noreaster barge through during the night, and when we awoke, it was smoke grey outside, quite chill, and still raining, although not as hard as it had during the night (the windows were soaked). The weather report looked iffy, but we had planned for this: we were doing two indoor excursions today, out to Stockbridge where the Norman Rockwell Museum and Studio is, and to Deerfield, to the Yankee Candle flagship store. The only problem would be the long ride out.
After breakfast we set out via the Massachusetts Turnpike. For a while it looked as if it would clear upwe even had some sunshine and bits of blue skybut by the time we reached the Berkshires the weather had grown low and gloomy again. But up until we reached I-91, the roadside was aflame. You couldn't look right or left without seeing loveliness: multicolor trees marching at roadside, or curved about a pond or lake, protectively surrounding a Victorian-era home as seen from swift movement crossing an overpass. Even the brush growing up against the roadbed was brilliant with saffrons and tangerines and crimsons.
After we crossed I-91 and reached higher elevations, the color faded a bit, except for the yellows, for a good while, but it was still pretty bright by the time we reached Stockbridge.
If you've seen Norman Rockwell's painting of Christmas shopping, you know Stockbridge. It's almost close enough to New York to spit over the line. And it still looks the way it did when Rockwell painted it, although the contents of the buildings have changed, and, despite the weather, the tourists were still cheek-by-jowl. The museum and studio itself are further down the road, on a beautiful piece of land with an east view of the steep slope of the Berkshires, which, despite the overcast and rain, popped with yellow and gold.
The museum holds a gallery of paintings, most of them with some type of story attached, whether it was about one of the people in the paintings or even about Rockwell's financial status at the time it was painted. For instance, in this early painting of a boy forced to walk his infant sibling while his friends jeer at him, Rockwell commented that the boy playing the aggrieved youngster was a perfect model who could pick up whatever emotion was asked of him immediately. A few years after he posed pushing the pram, the boy was playing a prank and fell out a window to his death.
This piece of a little boy and his grandmother saying grace at a diner was something Rockwell drew that was not something he himself had observed, as many of the other paintings were, but something that was told to him. He changed many things about the characters in the portrait from the original story, but the essence remained the same.
I was really struck with all the paintings, which were so much more alive than the illustrations they spawned, but was particularly taken by this painting of a telephone lineman, which was done as an advertisement for the phone company. It has a photographic quality, especially from a distance. You expect the man to move and breathe. And of course the "Christmas Shopping in Stockbridge" is even more compelling in person. I want to step into the painting and walk those storefronts and catch snowflakes on my tongue.
There was also an exhibition of William Steig pieces at the gallery. Cartoonist for The New Yorker and illustrator of many books, Steig is probably most well-known these days for being the creator of Shrek, the original who has a much different look from his Dreamworks counterpart. The New Yorker cartoons gave me a good giggle.
Tramped out in the now steady rain to see the studio. This was Rockwell's last studio, and, he said, his finest, with windows at the north for the best light. It has been left exactly as it was when he sickened and died, down to his brushes and reference books, and a typical palette has been laid out and a painting left on the easel (something I didn't know: Rockwell did his paintings with a frame on). The famous helmet hanging on the easel in his "Triple Self-Portrait" is there, and comes with a funny story: Rockwell spied the piece while shopping in Paris and thought it was some sort of antique artifact, perhaps Napoleonic or from the Franco-Prussian war; he paid a pretty penny for it. Then he found out all the Paris firemen wore them!
Visited the gift shop (it's a state law...heh) and got a souvenir book and a magnet of "Christmas in Stockbridge" (oh, and sent a postcard to Jen before leaving; she's going to have a pile of them in a while), then went off in search of lunch. Thanks to my Droid, we found a Friendly's only a few miles away. Warm chicken soup tastes quite yummy on a chilly, rainy day.
Incidentally, the Droid has been invaluable on this trip: except for losing signal completely in Weston, it has found us directions (since the GPS unit only tells you where you are going, it doesn't show you the map of where you are and what surrounds you), places to eat, and things to see. Plus it kept me entertained at the airport during the hour delay, and I could read while waiting for lunch. Today we listened to the two most recent "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" programs on the way to Stockbridge and a "This Week in Tech" podcast on the way back.
It was approaching three, so we got on the road again to backtrack to Deerfield. This took about an hour.
So what's so great, you ask, about a giant candle store? Well, there are Yankee candles everywhere. (Mnn, some great new scents, too, like spiced orange, maple pancake, apple pie, and maple walnut.) You can't turn a corner without seeing tables of large jars; right now, of course, the Christmas and autumn scents are prominent. But it is also a place to buy gifts, foods (soup, dip, cheeseball, cake, and other mixes), pantry items like dishcloths and napkins, coffee, sports items, a few clothing items, treats (like fudge and caramel corn), cookbooks, dishes, toys, and candy.
Oh, and Christmas ornaments: within the complex there is a huge Christmas store with ornaments in designs and shapes I have never seen beforedogs, crystals, Santas in various costumes, fish, ballerinas, woodsy forest creatures, fruits, baked goods...just too many to name. One area looks like a castle and has German items, including "smokers" and nutcrackers. (Another section had an assortment of German pyramids, which made me drool.) There is an area with Christmas trees where it "snows" every four minutes (this was disappointing; I knew it wasn't real snow, but the effect is rather half-hearted). Another section has Christmas villages set up. One central area has a little animatronic stage show with country boys cracking bad puns, with little booths of different Christmas ornaments around it. One area even has the history of Yankee Candle, which started with a teenage boy named Mike Kittredge, who wanted to give his mother a gift but had no money. He used leftover crayons and a mold to make his mom a candle. Someone admired it, he used money to make more, and he was off! They even had his original tools and wax-encrusted sneakers on display. Another corner had old-fashioned candlemaking tools, both dipping and molded. A thick enough taper candle, it seems, must be dipped at least 25 times.
By the time we emerged from this wonderland it was almost six o'clock and the wind was whipping up. It was definitely chilly, too.
They say the mark of good leaf color is that they glow even as it gets dark and these leaves fulfilled that. As we drove the long road back to Burlington they were attractive up until full dark. Unfortunately full dark brought full rain. I drove as long as I could, but there was construction on Route 2, and the reflection of the headlights from oncoming traffic on the shiny panels set at the side of the road made my eyes burn and blur. I finally had to pull off at an exit and swap with James.
We had our leftover Chinese food from dinner on Sunday for supper, watching a repeat of Nature's "The Wolf That Changed America," about Ernest Thompson Seton's pursuit of Lobo the wolf.