The Berkshires: Where Culture Meets Canine

By Matthew Wexler, July 2018
Jacob’s Pillow, the renown dance center, school and performance space located in Becket, Massachusetts, hosts its annual Dog Dance on July 14. (photo credit) Hayim Heron, courtesy of Jacob’s Pillow.

Jacob’s Pillow, the renown dance center, school and performance space located in Becket, Massachusetts, hosts its annual Dog Dance on July 14. (photo credit) Hayim Heron, courtesy of Jacob’s Pillow.

Gilded Age glory reigns supreme in the Berkshires, where western Massachusetts’s postcard-perfect towns and rolling hills harken back to 19th-century opulence. Today a backdrop for a new generation  of forward-thinking artists and tastemakers, the region has long provided respite for dog lovers, including novelist Edith Wharton  (The Age of Innocence, House of Mirth), whose lush, 100-plus-acre Lenox estate gave her beloved dogs Mimi, Miza and Jules plenty of room to roam in the early 1900s. Wharton would be thrilled to see how the Berkshires has embraced its dog-loving culture, exemplified by a summer’s worth of dog-centric programming.

North County

Berkshire County encompasses more than 900 square miles, but the winding two-lane roads make for long travel times between destinations, so it’s best to plan strategically to ensure that time is well spent. North Adams boasts two worthy stops, including the contemporary visual and performance hub MASS MoCA.

A former manufacturing complex, the current 250,000-squarefoot, multi-building gallery space dates back to 1860. The most recent addition, Building 6 on the campus’s western perimeter, houses a long-term collaboration with multimedia artist Laurie Anderson,  with exhibitions that include visual works, audio archive, virtual reality and more. Her expansive Lolabelle in the Bardo installation features a series of 10-foot-tall charcoal sketches inspired by her late dog.

North Adams’ newly opened Museum of Dog puts four-legged friends front and center, both in terms of its exhibitions as well as its dog-friendly policy. Canine visitors are welcome to play offleash in the beautifully restored 1803 building (originally constructed as a saloon) while their people explore founder David York’s memorabilia and art collection. “Our proximity to many other cultural attractions is the perfect fit for M.O.D.,” says York, “and our antique hardware building befits the loving character of dog art and those who simply love dogs.” This summer’s exhibit showcases original, whimsical works by Brian Nash.

Clockwise, starting top left: MASS MOCA, the visual arts and performance center in North Adams; its new neighbor the Museum of Dog; picnicking at Olivia’s Overlook in West Stockbridge; Laurie Anderson’s drawing Lolabelle in the Bardo.
(photo credits) MASS MoCA aerial view, Douglas Mason; courtesy of Museum of Dog; Gallery view, Zoran Orlic; Lolabelle in the Bardo, Canal Street Communications.

A short, scenic drive west leads to the Clark Art Institute, a pastoral 140-acre campus that houses a public art museum designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Tadao Ando and a research center as well as dog-friendly walking trails. Summer highlights include “Women Artists in Paris,  1850–1900” (through September 3), with works by Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt and others, and “The Art of Iron” (through September 16), a curated collection from France’s Musée Le Secq des Tournelles.

A quintessential Berkshires meal can be had at nearby Mezze Bistro + Bar, overlooking Williamstown’s Sheep Hill. Chef Nicholas Moulton oversees the seasonal menu, which draws from the bounty of local farmers, while signature cocktails rely on handcrafted artisan spirits from Berkshire Mountain Distillers.

At day’s end, pet-friendly Porches Inn (starting at $199/night, plus $40 per pet) provides accommodations  in lovingly restored Victorian row houses decorated with retro furniture and vintage accents. Crates are available if needed, and each fourlegged guest receives biscuits and a personalized welcome letter from Sabine, the house cat.

Clockwise, starting top left: Louise Breslau (Swiss, 1856–1927), The Friends, 1881. Oil on canvas, 
33.5 x 63 in. Part of the Women Artists in Paris, 1850–1900 exhibition at the Clark Art Institute; Pierre-August Renoir, Tama, the Japanese Dog, c. 1876. Oil on canvas. 15.0625 x 18.1875 in. Clark Art Institute; Turn Park Art Space; Thomas Schütte’s Crystal, site-specific installation at the Clark.
(photo credits) Courtesy of the Clark Art Institute

South County

Head south on Route 7, where more adventures await, including Turn Park Art Space, a pet-friendly outdoor art park on the site of a former quarry. Co-founders Igor Gomberg and Katya Brezgunova have reimagined the 16-acre space with environmental works by Nikolay Silis (including a gorgeously pensive “Don Quixote with a Flower” sculpture) and others, along with community events all summer long.

Coffee culture reigns supreme in the Berkshires, and one of the most coveted cups can be found at No. Six Depot, just a short stroll from Turn Park. Sustainably grown organic beans are hand-roasted in-house in a vintage Probatino roaster; try their signature Berkshire Sky, a blend of Sumatra Ketiara and Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. On-leash pets are allowed on the café’s outdoor patio. The Berkshires is also home to 11 craft breweries and cideries, including solar-powered Barrington Brewery & Restaurant, where beer lovers and their leashed dogs can enjoy Berkshire Blonde, Raspberry Ale and other seasonal brews on the outdoor patio.

Louise Abbéma (French, 1853-1927), Lunch in the Greenhouse, 1877. Oil on canvas, 76.375 x 121.25 in. (photo credit) Musée des Beaux-Arts, Pau, France, courtesy American Federation of Arts
Women Artists in Paris, 1850–1900, The Clark Art Institute

For another experience that puts canines and their companions front and center, Jacob’s Pillow— an international dance school on the grounds of a national historic landmark—hosts its annual Dog Dance on July 14. Elizabeth Johnson, Dance Exchange’s associate artistic director, leads participants (people and their leashed dogs) through movement activities. The event concludes with a group dance, followed by giveaways and a raffle featuring items from local pet vendors. Throughout the summer, America’s longest-running dance festival presents more than 50 dance companies from around the world. Leashed dogs are permitted on the grounds but only service dogs are allowed in the theaters.

For posh pet digs that embody the Berkshires’ luxury lineage, Annie Selke’s 33 Main in Lenox dates back to 1836 and has been meticulously refurbished by the renowned designer. Opt for the Aster (one of two dog-friendly rooms), which features a crisp white-androyal blue palette, soaking tub, homemade dog treats and a special bed for traveling canines (starting at $389/night, plus $50 per pet).

Clockwise, starting top left: 33 Main (hotel) offers Federalist-style luxury in Lenox; go rustic at Camp Unleashed; North Adams’ The Porches Inn; local culinary specialties at Mezze Bistro + Bar.

ROAM FREE

No trip to the Berkshires is complete without a scenic outdoor adventure. Consider the following:

Ashuwillticook Rail Trail
Leashed dogs are permitted on this 11-mile converted rail line, which offers plenty of spots for picnics and sightseeing.

Camp Unleashed Berkshires
A rustic weekend for pets and their owners at Becket-Chimney Corners YMCA (August 31 to September 3).

French Park Dog Park
Go off leash at this one-acre fenced grassy park.

Mount Greylock State Reservation
Trails with various degrees of difficulty culminate at the 3,500-foot summit. Pets must be leashed at all times.

SPECIAL NOTE

Portraits by Amanda Jones One of our favorite long-time contributors, photographer Amanda Jones, has a studio in North Adams. (Amanda’s portraits have graced numerous Bark covers.) If you’re in the area with your pup, consider making an appointment for a photo session with the master. Or, check out her tour schedule online; she makes regular stops in select cities across the country.

Williams College: RAWR! Animaland art-lovers won’t want to miss RAWR! A WCMA Bestiary at the Williams College Museum of Art in Williamstown. Works from its encyclopedic collection explore international representations of animals in art and artifacts across time (through October 31, 2018).

Matthew Wexler is a nationally recognized travel and lifestyle writer whose work has appeared in more than 20 publications and online media outlets. He is also the proud parent of Luey, a rescue dog from Rescue Dogs Rock NYC.
 

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