The Berkshire Museum, located in Pittsfield, MA, is a hidden gem. There are many of these small museums in New England – and probably elsewhere – founded by a local businessman and his family for the betterment of the surrounding community. In the early 1900s, there were many well to do families who brought their love of travel, and collecting back home to the US. Probably the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum in Boston is one of the better-known examples of these.
Zenas Crane, then third generation owner of Crane & Co (then and still the official paper of the US Treasury – think our paper money), founded the Berkshire Museum in 1903. He purchased a lot of wonderful treasures including several exquisite enormously large pieces of Hudson River School art.
And I suspect you don’t know that he funded the first successful expedition to the North Pole! The museum has been well managed since then and continues to purchase, install, and create travel exhibits that are on par with any of the larger museums.
Like so many of these small delightfully quirky local museums, there’s a little something for everybody. You’ll find really wonderful fine art – as in Audubon – natural history items – as in dinosaurs – special traveling exhibits, and even a small family aquarium!
During this recent spring, we attended a specially arranged Behind the Scenes Tour of the museum. It was offered to members, and I quickly signed up, and wondered why the tour was limited to six people. When we arrived, I quickly found out why! The holdings are all stuffed into several parts of the basement. It’s hard to describe how packed it really is.
But the treasures we enjoyed up close were remarkable! And, with the museum’s membership director, and a curator along, we only had to ask a question and he would put on his white gloves, have a look, and answer the question. We got to see that suit of clothes worn on that first trip to the North Pole, some rare photos, Audubon prints, an incredible collection of Native art (which we hear is their next major exhibit) and more.
Behind the scenes tours are extraordinary ways to explore the world – join a few museums today. Support their work and suggest a tour!
By the way, don’t forget to pet Wally and look for the Calder’s – you can even play with some replicas!