The Libraries Of New England

IMG_2552They say you can know the value a town assigns to an activity by looking at the building where the activity occurs.  If that’s true, it’s obvious that the folks in New England love reading.  Every town we visited — from tiny Tamworth, New Hampshire, to bustling Woodstock, Vermont, to the transitional city of North Adams, Massachusetts — had a very memorable library that seemed perfectly suited to the town it served.

In Tamworth, the Cook Memorial Library, pictured above, dates back to the late 1800s.  It’s a beautiful little white wooden structure with a white picket fence located right in the center of town.  The library’s clock tower, with its beautiful design elements, still keeps good time.

IMG_2747The North Adams Public Library, shown at left, finds its home in former mansion.  In 1896 the first mayor of North Adams, Albert Houghton, bought the striking brick residence and donated it to the city for use as a public library in memory of his brother; he also donated $10,000 — which was real money in those days — to renovate the building for use as a library.  (Isn’t that the kind of mayor every town really needs?)  With its turrets and towers and chimneys and graceful windows, the library beautifully anchors one end of the North Adams downtown area along with neighboring churches and an art museum.

The Norman Williams Public Library in Woodstock, Vermont, pictured below, is a stunning  structure found at one corner of the village green, with a stone marker to the Revolutionary War dead in its front yard.  Built in the 1880s, the library features a pink sandstone facade and an entrance through curved stone arches.  Inside a visitor will find shelving on the first floor and a terrific open and airy reading area on the second floor below the library’s vaulted ceiling.

The histories of these libraries shows that people still care deeply about books and learning; each library has undergone recent renovations and improvements that demonstrate that it remains a valued member of the community.  The beauty and continued vitality of these wonderful libraries says something very positive about their towns.

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Mass MoCA

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Kish and I were blown away by our visit today to Mass MoCA — the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art — in North Adams, Massachusetts. It is an awesome powerhouse of a museum with a fine selection of contemporary art and, most importantly, the space to display the pieces properly, with plenty of room and light.

In20140808-125502-46502950.jpg fact, the Mass MoCA buildings are as jaw-dropping as the art. The museum occupies a sprawling set of brick industrial buildings with plenty of windows and ceilings that are sky-high. The space allows for display of the most titanic pieces imaginable — like Teresita Fernandez’s Black Sun, shown in the photo at the top of this post — and allows ample, crowd-free room from which to admire them.  Mass MoCA has so much space it will be featuring a huge exhibition of the wall drawing conceptions of Sol Lewitt for 25 years.  25 years!

Adding to the adventure are the many nooks and crannies and passageways and bridges that reflect the buildings’ industrial past, and the canal that cuts through the property. Be sure not to miss the rusting boiler room building, which has been converted into a kind of musical art experience, and the Hall Art Foundation building, an aircraft hangar-sized structure that features gigantic pieces by Anselm Kiefer.

During our visit we particularly enjoyed the display of the very evocative art of Darren Waterston, with paintings that are deep, layered, and mysterious, and his full-sized, carefully constructed decomposing room called Filthy Lucre that riffs on James McNeill Whistler’s Peacock Room and reimagines it as a crumbling ruin.  We also appreciated a huge exhibition of the work of Izhar Patkin that demonstrated, in particular, what the Mass MoCA space permits. In one huge wing, shown in the photograph below, the curators built separate rooms to display Patkin’s beautiful and haunting painted fabric creations. How many museums have the space to permit that?

If you are an art lover, Mass MoCA is simply not to be missed.

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