It’s autumn in New England. This is when Mother Nature breaks out her brightest palette to paint treetops in stunning hues of red, orange and gold. Even the fallen leaves make mosaics when scattered across city sidewalks. But to pair your leaf peeping with an art crawl, plug Massachusetts’ northwest corner into your GPS—for as long as it can catch a signal, that is. There’s a remoteness to this region of the Bay State, but tucked among the peaks and valleys of the Berkshire Mountains are opportunities to discover world-class art against a bucolic backdrop.
First, establish a home base: the Guest House at Field Farm in Williamstown, a town probably best known for its Tony-winning Williamstown Theatre Festival, which annually draws marquee New York film and stage names looking to flex their creative muscle in summer stock. Field Farm is a 316-acre property managed by the Trustees of Reservations, a nonprofit that’s the largest private holder of conserved land in the state. (Read: They keep pretty green spaces looking pretty and green.) And its Guest House is a six-room bed and breakfast inside the former home of Lawrence and Eleanor Bloedel, passionate patrons of the arts whose robust collections now line gallery walls at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Williams College Museum of Art—just a few miles away on rural Route 7.
Many works remain on permanent display at the Guest House, itself an architectural period piece. Built in 1948, the home was designed by Edwin Goodell Jr. in a Bauhaus-influenced style. (The job nearly went to none other than Frank Lloyd Wright.) Utilitarian, utopic and fashionably municipal, the German-born school left a clear mark on the main home, but a second structure, the Folly, built by the Bloedels as a guesthouse in 1968 and now open to tours, reflects the more post-modernist work of Ulrich Franzen. Sleek and spare, the Folly’s wood-lined, den-like rooms are arranged around a central shingled silo. (Think artful IKEA. That’s not a dis.)
Both buildings are mini museums of modern art and midcentury furnishings—glass-topped tables, swivel chairs, teacarts—many of which were built by Lawrence Bloedel. (You can practically picture a Masters of Sex character draped on the swan-back couch.) And beautiful bronze sculptures are scattered across the property’s grounds, which boast four miles of footpaths that meander through forest and wetlands—perfect for wandering after a hearty breakfast from the kitchen.
You’ll want to visit the modern-leaning Williams College Museum of Art to see some of the works the Bloedels bequeathed to the institution. But there’s much more to view while you’re there, from the whimsically naughty mixed media of Franz West to the calligraphic creations in Fathi Hassan: Migration of Signs, an exhibit opening with a series of live drawings by the Nubian artist in November.
The nearby Clark Art Institute has an impressive permanent collection that skews toward classic cultural icons—Americans like Homer and Sargent, Renaissance old masters, Impressionist vanguards like Monet, Renoir and Degas. At the heart of the Clark’s stately, eco-conscious campus is a wide reflecting pool, surrounded by several walking trails so visitors can behold the natural beauty of the Berkshires between gallery hops.
The Clark recently added an eatery, Cafe Seven, from restaurateur Stephen Starr—the same bigwig behind swanky hotspots like Morimoto. While its farm-to-table ethos admirably raises the bar on museum food (no day-old tuna salad wraps here!), there are a few other noteworthy dining options nearby. American brasserie Hops and Vines offers craft brews and eclectic wines for sipping in a garden by a roaring fire pit, and the country-kitchen digs of Mezze Bistro + Bar are a charming counterpoint to its menu of mostly Mediterranean small plates.
Next up: the neighboring town of North Adams, home to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA), the country’s largest museum of its kind. Galleries ramble (somewhat confusingly) throughout a brick former textile mill, filled with challenging exhibitions like As Above So Below by Teresita Fernandez, featuring immersive, dream-like lunar landscapes rendered in graphite and gold. A labyrinthine three-floor retrospective of Sol LeWitt traces the minimalist artist’s work from its earliest stages—elaborate floor-to-ceiling patterns created with light, barely perceptible strokes of pencil—to his Aughties output of bold, neon color bars splashed across massive panels. (And don’t miss duo Sayler/Morris’ Eclipse, a surprisingly evocative video installation that eulogizes the once-abundant, now-extinct passenger pigeon. Seriously.)
Quaint North Adams also has a number of galleries and live/work artist lofts; the DownStreet Art initiative is an excellent resource for where to find them. And sprinkled among the downtown’s booksellers and trinket shops are a few excellent eateries, especially PUBLIC eat + drink, an inventive gastropub with a South End sheen.
Williamstown and North Adams are less than an hour from Berkshire havens like Stockbridge, where you’ll find nostalgic Americana at the Norman Rockwell Museum, and Lenox, home to Tanglewood summer concerts and the Mount, author Edith Wharton’s manse turned (reputedly haunted) museum. Smaller museums, performance art troupes and seasonal cultural festivals can be found throughout these Western Massachusetts towns and merit a looksee on the way home—which you’ll especially want to make leisurely at this time of year, the better to soak up every second of that fleeting annual show of perfectly painted trees.
– What you won’t find in the Guest House’s rooms: TVs. What you will: private second-floor decks that offer dramatic views of Mount Greylock, the state’s highest natural point. Foliage fans should hike or drive to its summit.
Hops and Vines 16 Water St., Williamstown (413-884-1372) hopsandvinesma.com
The Guest House at Field Farm 554 Sloan Road, Williamstown (413-458-3135) thetrustees.org/field-farm
MASS MoCA 87 Marshall St., North Adams (413-662-2111) massmoca.org
Mezze Bistro + Bar 777 Cold Spring Road, Williamstown (413-458-0123) mezzerestaurant.com
PUBLIC eat + drink 34 Holden St., North Adams (413-664-4444) publiceatanddrink.com
Williams College Museum of Art 15 Lawrence Hall Dr., Williamstown (413-597-2429) wcma.williams.edu