By Arthur H. Gunther III
Whether it be global warming, the Tea Party, the Democrats, cranky Mother Nature or nothing at all, fall color seems to be coming later every year. We were in old industrial-town North Adams, Mass., and Stockbridge, last home of Norman Rockwell, during what was supposed to be peak “peepers” season, but it wasn’t. Nippy mornings, yes, and the usual fog that comes in Berkshire land with its mountains and valleys, but most leaves were still on the trees. It was as if the Washington shutdown had furloughed the process, and time was suspended.
Actually, time has moved on in North Adams, once a very large industrial center where the fabric for Union Army clothing and then electronics for atom bombs and missiles were manufactured. More than 200 years were invested by workers and industry in this community, with 26 original buildings along the Hoosic River now part of MASS MoCA, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, The site includes courtyards, bridges, viaducts and Industrial Age architecture that are works of art in themselves. So, while we found so little autumn foliage to see, the visit was worth it for the richness of the art installations and the results of preserving and enhancing American history. In a nation that has always been on the march, building and building, it is reassuring that some record of the past is kept.
In Stockbridge where artist Rockwell had a home and studio, continuing his Saturday Evening Post covers and later a 10-year association with Look, there also was little fall color, though the artist’s museum offered enough of every hue from the palette of America’s chronicler of what makes us who we are. As Rockwell said, “Without thinking too much about it in specific terms, I was showing the America I knew and observed to others who might not have noticed.” And that includes Americans. His Look covers, coming as they did in the 1960s after the John F. Kennedy assassination, depict a nation in transformation, and the worry and uncertainty of that, including major work on civil rights and other social issues.
This trip brought light traffic, a rare delight, and while we did not fill up on the great reds and yellows of autumn foliage, there was fine color for the soul — the art work and historic preservation in North Adams and the catalog of a national treasure in Stockbridge. It made us forget the drab grayness of a forlorn Washington, D.C.
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Any or all of this essay may be reproduced.