Monday, September 7, 2009


One of the biggest draws to this area is the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Located just ½ mile from the Williamstown “rotary”, this museum sits in the middle of 140 lush acres of pristine woods, hills and fields.

Hiking paths, some with wooden bridges and roads, lead hikers thru the dramatic landscape and there is even a duck pond (complete with singing frogs and a pair of mallards).
You can park and walk around the grounds for free and views from parts of the property are spectacular.

I am not one of those beret wearing, chin-rubbing intellects who discusses the philosophy of the color blue, so maybe sending me off to an art museum is not the best of plans if one seeks great art critique, but I’ll let you know the truth, at any rate, on how my experience was at the Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute.

I drove the WonderCar there on the last day of the special exhibit for Georgia O’Keeffe and Arthur Dove paintings, known fondly as “CIRCLES OF INFLUENCE”. It was really crowded!
The Clark is a pretty white building with a large concrete addition in the back and a very big yard. Once inside, there is a food stand and gift/bookstore along with the ticket counter and directions booth.

It was $12.50 to get in as a regular person and I recommend you get the portable audio tour and spend an extra $3. This audio tour device looks like a large black telephone. There is a number printed next to each painting and you enter it into the device and it tells you all the juicy details about that painting. I thought folks using these looked like they were listening to a really important, long winded phone call. (Jealousy talking…I didn’t get one and I wanted to know what they were hearing!)

I went first to the left hallway, where an auditorium was showing the pleasant 11 minute film about the Clark (posted here), called ART IN NATURE.

Sterling’s grampy made the family fortune by being one of the founders of the SINGER SEWING MACHINE Company. Gramps and Sterling’s dad both graduated from Williams College, so there is the connection with Williamstown and a warm relationship with Williams College that extends to this day.

Sterling was a soldier in the early 1900s. He traveled to China and Europe, where he had bought some 14th century religious art. This began his now famous collection.

While in France, he stumbled into a poetry reading, where pretty French actress Francine was reciting. He was instantly smitten with her (a groupie?). After marrying Francine, she kind of bullied him into adding more art pieces to his collection, mainly French and Impressionist paintings, sculpture, and way too much silver.

Their art collection grew H U G E, and remained privately hanging in their home(s), until even their mansions couldn’t hold it all. Fearing the safety and future of their art, they decided to build a special museum to show it off and protect it.

The Williamstown area had a perfect serene setting, and they built a structure with an intimate and homey feel to it. Thought it would make for a true “Zen moment” for art lovers to not only view the art, but have a place that they could reflect about it in and walk around appreciating "art in nature"... hmmm

There are 19 gallery rooms in the main building and 2 ½ in the new Stone Hill building (up the lane a piece).
The institute opened in the 1950s originally just to house the Clarks' stuff, but expanded over the years into a very unique art museum, a center for learning, an incredible library of history and art books, a painting repair shop and a place for meetings (of artistic minded folks and others).

The trails and paths that wander through the beautiful landscape and woods surrounding the buildings are a MUST to walk if you have a pair of comfortable shoes to change into after you nudge your way thru the art buildings. Most take ½ to 1 hour, so they are not hard and are truly a joy to complete.

The Dove-O’Keeffe exhibit was smaller than I had expected, with “he said-she said” kind of feel to it. Similar Dove and O’Keeffe pairings were grouped on the walls.
It was Dove who apparently started it all with his modern art showing in a NY gallery. The gallery owner was also a photographer. Georgia O’Keeffe saw some of Dove’s stuff and started painting herself, copying his style, (methinks hers was better!) She showed her paintings in that same NY gallery and she wound up married to the art gallery owner/photographer.

The book of this exhibition includes many paintings and lots more information about the two painters and the photographer than is shown live. There is even a nude photograph of O’Keeffe done by her husband (yikes, a little TMI for this observer).
I enjoyed O’Keeffe’s NEW YORK WITH MOON,

and was tickled to see Dove’s SUNRISE,

but only because it is the logo used by the Clark and appears on their street signs. In person, it is short and squat compared to the Clark logo version.

Most of Dove’s later stuff appeared to be inspired by Georgia’s stuff (only duller) and she claims he inspired her early stuff. Compliments back n forth between them was like having kiss-up happy hour with your boss…
I prodded past a sea of people listening intently to their audio phones and the chosen few that rubbed their chins to discuss the philosophy of the color blue. I was amazed at how gleeful these artsy folk seemed in discovering all those symbolic meanings in each sweeping white line or purple and green blob, as they pointed and gaped lovingly at each painting in sequence….. OH COME ON. (insert eye-roll here)
The last room in the exhibit is where people are sitting and looking through books.

I really do love art. I watched all the episodes of SISTER WENDY on PBS years ago, so I’m not completely an idiot…hopefully not alienating any of you with my brash commentos…but even Sterling and Francine Clark didn’t own a Dove or O’Keeffe painting…

I decided to wander over to view the permanent Clark collection, which really IS great.
There are terrific Euro landscapes by talented artists such as Ruisdael.

Bask in the beauty of the gowns and the delicate womanly details of Raumondo de Madrezo y Garreta’s “THE BOUQUET”,

...and note the moody realism in Sargent’s STAIRCASE.

Have a closer look at a painting done way back in 15something by Corneille de Lyon…it’s a very small Portrait of Francois de Montmoreny…photographic detail and brilliant colors…
How old is this painting? 500 years??? Stunning!
I chuckled to myself as I wondered if such a small portrait was akin to those chain store studio packages where you get one 8 x 10, a couple of 5 x 7s and some wallets (for grammy and your classmates) for one low bargain price. ;-) Was this a small bonus portrait for Mr. Montmoreny to give to his mom? Was a bigger portrait done just like this one? I cannot imagine he commissioned this artist to do just a 4 x 6 size portrait!
This is where it hangs...the tiny one on the left wall.

Look closely at Pesellino’s KING MELCHOIR SAILING TO THE HOLY LAND and check out the real gold on the robes. Magic! (or is that Magi?) lol (am I ever clever!)

Take in the portraits of plain people in fancy clothes, all those lusty semi-erotic nudie angels and nymphs and lounging ladies of the 1600s, and oh ya, that early Madonna stuff with the adult looking baby.
Smile at the serene BANKS OF THE SEINE by Sisley.
Oh my…is that the famous George Washington portrait by Stewart tucked amongst the silver trays and old hutch furniture?!
There is a surprise around every corner here.
You will see both the sketch and the final magnificent color painting of Bouguereau’s NYMPHS & SATYRE.

Degas’s greenish-blue-skinned ladies in The Dancing Lesson, (one of the first paintings Sterling and Francine bought together), nestled amongst Manets, Toulouse-Lautrecs, Monets and Renoirs.

There are a couple rooms full of silver trays, Pitchers, goblets and other silver things. If there is a bridal registry in purgatory, I imagine this is it. Spending valuable vacation time looking at silver goblets and pitchers? 300+ of them in a room?!
I quickly escaped to go look at rooms with paintings in them.
Constables MALVERNE HALL (with the cute tiny little peacock on the grounds) and OSWINGTON BAY (with impressive clouds and sky coloring), really grabbed my attention.

Claude Vernits striking COASTAL SEINE IN MOONLIGHT, and Homer’s colorful masterpiece PROUTS NECK (one of Sterling Clark’s favorite paintings) made the trip worth doing.

One of the most awe-inspiring moments for me at the Clark was walking into the room that housed the highly decorated piano set beneath the amazing painting by Lawrence Alana-Taldema called THE WOMEN OF AMPHISSER. Whoa! I had to catch my breath!
The lighting, the detail, the beauty, the size, the pressence! Breathtaking.

Many other artists’ works appear, and a whole room of ceramics awaits you, but I’ll not spoil the fun. I’ll let you discover them for yourself…

OK, back out into the gift shop, I searched through Renoir mouse-pads, Klimt note sets, Piano design Tote bags, silk scarves, greeting cards, magnets, kids art appreciation stuff, matted 8 x 10 prints and a game called WILLIAMSTOWNOPOLY…yep, you guessed it…Monopoly with all Williamstown locations.

They had (very plain) white T’s with only the words THE CLARK in blue (!) or red on them…a Japanese chopstick & rice bowl set, little knickknacks and oodles of unusual jewelry and little sculptures. The books for sale were pretty cool…art history, artist retrospectives…lots of interesting picture books too.

The Library houses thousands of rare and out of print art books gathered over time from purchases, art collectors and professors; these are used for study and research by students and the public alike.

The Clark has lectures here, a Masters program, special events like concerts and guided walks, and children’s tours.
While you can grab a sandwich, salad or cookie and a beverage in the main room food stand, (I got a Snickerdoodle), there is a real café’ up behind the auditorium that serves sit down food with utensils and even a glass of wine.
Was giggling at the sandwich they named MONA LISA SMILE (mozzarella and tomato, lol) and noted the food was a diverse a selection of soups, salads and sandwiches (all in the slightly steep $8-$12 for lunch range).

Back outside, I drove the WonderCar up the road a short distance to the STONE HILL building to view the rest of the exhibits.

Built only last year, Stone Hill is a huge building. It only has 2 ½ rooms for the public to actually view art. The rest of the building is for research, storage of over-sized paintings, a repair shop, a cafe' and gardening equipment.

JAPANESE ART IN NATURE was the exhibit on display (until October). I enjoyed the simplistic beauty and colors of the vases, especially Zenji’s VASE WITH BLUE GLAZE, bowls and silk paintings, and enjoyed the birds on the silk screens and KIITSUs large blue velvety morning glories on the 12 gilded paper panels. Little but mighty, I enjoyed this exhibit.
Museum security (the heat) watched me carefully so I could not sneak photos for you…
There is a really pleasant David Hockneyish café terrace area at this building. I grabbed a coffee and biscotti and sat out on it to take in the beautiful view of the mountains and calm surroundings.

This was the perfect ending to my art gallery experience.
Now, I have some thoughts to share about that color blue ...

To help track your time for vacation planning, I covered the complete museum in 2 hours, but I skipped the silver room and didn’t oooh and ahhh and linger too long over every one of the Dove and O’Keeffe paintings. I stopped for coffee and a cookie and sat at the café for about 10 minutes, and I watched the entire 11 minute film.

The Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute is located
At 225 South Street in Williamstown, MA 01267

Open Tuesdays through Sundays (closed Mondays) 10:00am – 5:00 pm.
(Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day).

Admission $12.50 June–October 31
Admission is FREE November-May

To get there from The 1896 House, turn Right out of BROOKSIDE/‘6 House Pub (it’s a Left out of Pondside) and follow Route 7 North to the Williamstown rotary (about 2 miles). Take first right and follow road for ½ mile. The Clark is on the right.