Williamstown is a peaceful place, but that does not mean it is a sleepy, dull town. With all the activities Williams College offers to the public as well as a wealth of cultural attractions, including the Williamstown Theatre Festival, a Film Festival and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, there is much to enjoy in town.
I first visited the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute on South Street just a week after I had moved from New York to Williamstown in the summer of 1988. But I already had a memento from the Clark: a picture postcard of Pierre-Auguste Renoir's painting "A Girl With A Falcon".
My son, Christopher, had mailed the postcard to me in 1986 when he was a student at Williams College. "Mom, I finally went to the Art Museum. It's really nice," he had written on the postcard. "I have a copy of this in my room and figured you could have one too. Hang it on the fridge."
It did not occur to me when I was living in New York that I ever would have an opportunity to see the original "A Girl With a Falcon" in an art museum that was only a 10-minute drive from my home. As a newcomer to the Clark, I was amazed that such a large collection of art was housed in a small New England town. Seeking an answer to the question stuck in my head, "Why Williamstown?" I found out that following World War II, Sterling Clark intended to create a museum in New York City for his collection of artwork, some of which he and his wife, Francine, had acquired after they married.
Searching for a site for his museum, Clark visited a few areas, including Williamstown where his family had strong ties. His grandfather graduated from Williams College in 1831, and both his grandfather and father had served as Trustees. After returning home from a nice encouraging visit to Williamstown, Clark corresponded with the leaders of Williams College and the college's museum, and resolved to build an art museum within walking distance of the college.
In 1953 Sterling and Francine Clark laid the cornerstone of the art institute that would bear their names, and two years later the institute was first opened to the public.
There are many paintings at the Clark, especially the work of my favorite artists Renoir and Claude Monet, I would love to have gracing my humble home, but, of course, that is impossible. So, I have settled for what is available and I am able to afford.
Once when my son stayed a weekend with me in the years he was a practicing lawyer in Washington, D.C., there was a special exhibition at the Clark, including Monet's work. We visited the Clark together and that day I bought two posters in the museum shop, one for myself and one for Christopher to take back to his home.
The Clark is the first art museum my daughter Jennifer's offspring, Alyssa, then 7, and Nicholas, then 4, visited. It happened during a Thanksgiving weekend that Jennifer and her family drove from their home on Long Island to spend the holiday with me here in Williamstown. Alyssa admired a poster of Monet's "Water Lilies" in my living room and asked "Who painted that?" I thought that spark of interest should be fanned.
Later that day, Jennifer and I walked into the Clark with the children in tow, cautioning them to not touch any of the art work.
Nonetheless, I held Nicholas's hand as we explored the galleries.
About an hour after we had arrived, I noticed that Nicholas's usual energetic stride had slowed down to the point where he was shuffling his feet. Pointing to a bench in a gallery, he tugged on my dress and asked. "Grandma, is that art?" I smiled and said, "No, honey. We can sit on it." Then we sat on the bench a few minutes, resting.
One summer week when Jennifer and her children were "vacationing" with me in Williamstown, the Clark presented a free outdoor concert. It was a wish come true for me.When I had attended such concerts in the past, I had watched children playfully tumbling in the grass, and feet flying, dash to the bandstand to "dance" - wiggling their bottoms, swinging their hips from side to side, jumping, spinning in circles. And I would think, " Nicholas and Alyssa would have fun here."
The evening we were together at the outdoor concert, Nicholas's eyes went wide when a pipe band marched across the lawn in full regalia - Scottish bonnets, tartan plaid kilts with sporrans (pouches) hugging their hips. Soon, Alyssa and Nicholas, purple balloons tied to their wrists, joined the children who had gathered around the bandstand dancing to the music.
Earlier, when Jennifer returned from a van where balloons were given out free of charge, she was carrying not two but three.
"I told the woman about you wanting so much to have the children come to an outdoor concert here," Jennifer said. "And she gave me the extra balloon for you."
Alyssa and Nicholas got a kick out of Grandma having a balloon tied to her wrist. Yes, we all had fun that evening!