National treasure in The Berkshires

I’ve been meaning to post about a fun little trip I took to Stockbridge, Massachusetts in August with my family. My sister and her husband and their baby son were visiting from Germany and wanted to visit The Norman Rockwell Museum, home to the trove of original artwork by the famed illustrator of Americana. I shamelessly glommed on — in my own car — and we were off for 1.5 hour ride toward some of the prettiest peaks and valleys Massachusetts has to offer.

The Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Mass. Source: Stockbridge Chamber of Commerce

This is a post about the experience. The artwork speaks for itself. I’m not entirely sure if people outside New England grew up in homes featuring Rockwell’s famous Saturday Evening Post cover images, though surely the most well known images are etched into the minds of most Americans of a certain age and background. As a Massachusetts kid, I spent my formative years gazing at Rockwell’s “The Runaway,” “Doctor and the Doll” and “Happy Birthday Miss Jones.” There’s no wondering about the artwork; no abstraction. When you enter The Norman Rockwell Museum, you’re met with the vibrant renderings of America of yesteryear and for me, the effect was very pleasant.

The pleasantry soon faded when my four kids began acting like children in a museum. One was bored, one was impatient with her younger, whining siblings. I soon realized that although Rockwell loved illustrating children, the museum workers were still wary of my kids getting too close to the artwork. At one point, I took it personally when someone asked me to keep my children on the rug about six inches away from the walls, but my oldest reminded me that this artwork was national treasure “worth millions of dollars” and I realized he had a point.

(I should also note that The Rockwell Museum features exhibitions by contemporary artists, and is currently featuring widely circulated images that impact public perception about race in “Imprinted: Illustrating Race,” as well as “In our lifetime: Paintings from the Pandemic,” by Kadir Nelson, an award-winning cover artist of today.)

If you’re traveling with a family, don’t lose heart. If you have two adults, you should be able to visit this museum with relative ease and also, kids are free! One adult can take kids to the gift shop, which is a great place to find small treats, Rockwell prints for your home, and Christmas presents. I only bought the small treats this trip, but it would be a wonderful place to get family members something unique for the holidays.

Outdoors, the scene for kids gets better. It was a beautiful late summer afternoon when we visited, and the Museum offers lawn games, easel painting and hula hoops with a view of the surrounding rolling meadows. It was a relief to get the kids out there and moving before we moved on to a tour of Rockwell’s studio. That plus snacks and drinks available for purchase on site were just what we needed to rally.

Blowing off steam outside at The Norman Rockwell Museum

The Rockwell studio tour is additional to the price of a museum ticket and I would not advise doing this if you’re juggling young children on your own. It’s really just a presentation, albeit an interesting one, inside the one-room studio adjacent to the main Museum building. I took my older kids on the tour with my sister and her family. The coolest part of it was that the woman presenting was a child growing up in Stockbridge when Rockwell was living and working in town (the studio has been relocated from its former downtown location to the Museum grounds), and she shared memories of sitting for Rockwell with other children at a time when “Mr. Rockwell” was a local working artist whom everyone knew.

After another round inside the museum, it was time for me to make my exit. But first, we would make a pit stop in downtown Stockbridge. I promised my kids ice cream and a look in the shops and Main Street in Stockbridge is an ideal place to do this. I had fond memories of visiting the town with my husband on weekend getaways. The stores weren’t stroller friendly, and my younger son suddenly came down with a fever while we were in a general store, so we had to cut it short. But the kids had time to grab some souvenirs and sweets and most of us left happy.

The Berkshires is one of my favorite places to be in New England, in fact, I fantasize about retiring there sometimes. The natural beauty, the arts, the laid-back vibe, and the food scene, are all to die for. Although I am committed to taking day trips and overnights with my kids, I do prefer the Berkshires with just my husband. He appreciates all those same things. We’ll get back to that someday! Until then, I will take advantage of the fact that there’s a Massachusetts Service Plaza in nearby Blandford on both sides of I-90. I highly recommend feeding your kids via McDonald’s Drive-Thru before or after, to foster cooperation.

There was no fall foliage during our trip in August, but if there was it would have looked like this:)

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