July 20 2012 by Jason Fogelson
Over eggs and sausage in the breakfast room at the BEST WESTERN Berkshire Hills Inn & Suites, I study my maps and brochures. I flip through the local newspaper, and notice that there are numerous local attractions to consider.
Nearby in Lenox is Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops. The complex has both indoor and outdoor music venues, and is a fantastic place to hear music, see performances by major artists like Diana Krall, Garrison Keillor, Bernadette Peters, James Taylor and more.
Lenox is the year-round home of Shakespeare & Company, a major theatrical and educational institution for over 35 years. Shakespeare & Company is famous for its actor training program, and also produces new plays, revivals and classics with major actors and directors.
I focus on one cultural institution that I've always wanted to visit: The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. I know, he's not classical music, he's not Shakespeare, but I have always been enchanted with Rockwell's work. The term "illustrator" is not derogatory in my mind. Rockwell was a working artist who produced work strictly on commission for most of his life. Illustrating and painting was his job -- which doesn't make his work any less "art."
The Norman Rockwell Museum is not an enormous place, just five or six galleries with probably a hundred works total on display at any one time. The museum's collection includes 998 original paintings and drawings, and over 100,000 items in the Norman Rockwell Archives, but only a portion of that work is on display at any given time. The centerpiece of the museum is a central gallery that currently displays the original paintings from his most famous four-panel work, The Four Freedoms (1943). You've seen these iconic images, originally produced for the Saturday Evening Post and the United States Department of Treasury to stimulate the sale of war bonds. The most famous image, the family Thanksgiving dinner (Freedom from Want), is said to be one of the most reproduced works of art in history. Seeing it in person, any criticism of Rockwell seems high-minded and pretentious. This is a great painting by a master of his craft, and hundreds of years from now, people will still be admiring it. I'm glad I got to see the original with my own eyes.
Rockwell's studio has been moved onto the grounds of the museum, and is open to the public between May and December. It's a perfect little outbuilding for an artist, with fantastic light and few distractions. Many of Rockwell's own painting tools and personal items have been staged in the room, and it feels like he just stepped away from the easel for a minute and will be back at any moment. After seeing Rockwell's paintings and drawings, a peek at his studio is thrilling and moving.
Reluctantly, I have to leave the museum to get back to Queens Village. The ride is actually quite beautiful for much of the way. I pick up Route 41 and ride south, where I briefly ride in my seventh state in seven days, Connecticut. Even though I'm only in the state for minutes, it counts. If only I had detoured into Rhode Island a few days ago, I would really have something to brag about.
Now we're getting in to commuting distance for New York City. There are many people who choose to commute in to Manhattan from as far away as Danbury, Connecticut, spending an hour or more in each direction on the train (or in their cars) every day for the privilege. I work out of my home now, and I don't miss commuting at all. I marvel at those who choose that way of life, and I wonder why more of them don't ride motorcycles. Imagine how much less crowded our roads would be, and how much easier everyone's commutes would be if 10% of commuters switched from SUVs to motorcycles? It could happen -- you never know.
I merge onto the Hutchinson River Parkway, and follow the tangled knot of highways toward Queens, across the Throg's Neck Bridge and onto the Cross Island Parkway, with a toll or two along the way. Finally, I exit at Jamaica Avenue, and glide up to the EagleRider building at 2:30 pm, safely on schedule. They open up the garage. I park the Electra Glide, retrieve my suitcase and unload my gear. EagleRider is kind enough to call a car service for me to get back to JFK Airport, and I'm on my way home.
After seven days on a motorcycle through New England, I'm full of nostalgia. I've lived on the West Coast for over a decade, and I had forgotten how fantastic summer in the Northeast can be. I fled the winters, and now I'm longing for the summers. I wish that I had another week or longer just to explore Maine, which really took my breath away. I would love to ride all the way along the coast, and all the way inland to Caribou and even into Canada.
Maybe next summer?
Miles ridden: 151.9
Total Miles Traveled: 1,092.3