Beyond the stunning natural beauty of the Berkshires, you will find a treasure trove of historical sites, museums, and entertainment options. Here are 15 great museums in the Berkshires, including art museums in the Berkshires and historic house museums. You may not even have heard of some of these hidden gem Berkshire museums, such as the Crane Museum of Papermaking and the Berkshire Museum Pittsfield. Read on to see which of these Berkshires museums will pique your interest!
Museums in the Berkshires
Discover the many writers, painters, and thinkers that have added great value to America’s diverse social landscape in the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts. These are the best museums to visit in the Berkshires for culture vultures of all ages!
These museums in the Berkshires, especially the ones in Lenox and Stockbridge, are a short drive on the way to Tanglewood – the summer home of the Boston Symphony orchestra or to the annual summer Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival held in nearby Becket.
Art Museums in the Berkshires
These art museums in the Berkshires can compete with leading fine art museums in any major city. It’s clear that Berkshire county attracts both the sporty and the cultural types!
Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, North Adams MA
Housed in a factory conversion of a print works that amount to an enormous 250,000 feet of gallery space, Mass MOCA pays homage to all forms of art – music, dance, painting, photography etc. Some of the work defies classification as well.
The huge spaces at this art museum allow for experimental and immersive art pieces that wouldn’t fit into traditional art museums. Kidspace is also an excellent child-centred art space.
Mass MOCA features works from both emerging and well-known artists. There are regular temporary exhibitions such as those showing the sculpture of British-Indian sculptor, Anish Kapoor in 2017-20 and Chinese political artist Ai WeiWei in 2015-16.
Mass MOCA also has a great museum store and a good selection of food options.
Address: 87 Marshall St., North Adams MA 01247
Clark Art Institute, Williamstown MA
The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute is marvelous, not only for the content of its collection but also for the architecture that is striking in its minimalism. The building was designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando. The Clark is more than a gallery and also serves as a research facility and educational center.
The Clark Institute has art that dates as far back as the Renaissance basically whatever the Clarks felt like collecting. Their tastes shifted from Old Masters to French 19th century paintings over time.
The most popular pieces in the collection though are works from the French Impressionists Claude Monet, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. There are also works by American artist, Winslow Homer and American artist who would rather be European, John Singer Sargent. There is a small room devoted to Edgar Degas’ Little Dancer Aged 14 sculpture so that you can observe it from all sides.
A 2007 bequest added more than 200 pieces of British art from the likes of J.M.W. Turner and his great rival, John Constable.
The expansive grounds also feature sculptures and a wildflower walk. There is always a new exhibit on display so every visit here will bring with it something new. Both the museum cafe and the museum shop are excellent.
(Can you tell I love this place??)
Address: 225 South St., Williamstown, MA 01267
Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown MA
The Williams College Museum of Art started off in 1926 as an art professor assembling the art collection at Williams College so that his students could see art in reality as opposed to just pictures of it.
The museum has an extensive and eclectic collection, e.g.., contemporary art, Indian painting and American photography. Their biggest collection is by brothers Maurice and Charles Prendergast, Canadian post-Impressionists.
This art museum in the Berkshires has free entry.
Address: 15 Lawrence Hall Dr. Ste. 2, Williamstown, MA 01267
Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge
Few painters have been able to capture American culture so poignantly as Norman Rockwell and, to this day, his art is considered some of the greatest in the country thanks to its mass appeal. Rockwell was a painter but also an illustrator and the museum aims at promoting his values through cultivating a culture of appreciation across the mediums.
More than 900 of his original pieces are on display at the permanent collection of the museum but there are also close to 100,000 personal effects, letters, photographs, and documents held here. Rockwell lived in Stockbridge for 25 years until his death and drew much inspiration from the surrounding areas and residents, clearly visible in his works.
Address: 9 MA-183, Stockbridge, MA 01262
Historic Homes in the Berkshires
Summer home in the Berkshires have been a popular escape from the heat of both New York City and Boston because the Berkshires are easy to reach from both places.
During the Gilded Age, the Berkshires became home to a summer set that rivalled the wealthy crowd that frequented Newport Rhode Island. For example, Lenox itself had about 75 of these summer homes (“cottages” just like the Newport “cottages”). Some of these historic homes in the Berkshires have been converted to luxury resorts like Blantyre and Seven Hills Inn, but others like Ventfort Hall and The Mount have become historic house museums.
It won’t surprise you to know that many of this historic homes are on the National Register of Historic Places. Note that some of these places are only open for the summer months.
Ventfort Hall and Gilded Age Museum, Lenox MA
Lenox, MA is home to one of the best museums in the Berkshires where you can see the lavish lifestyle of the Gilded age. The Jacobean Revival-style mansion was built for Sarah Morgan (sister of the famed banker, J.P. Morgan) at the end of the 18th century.
During that time, Lenox sprung up as a Gilded Age resort town where the newly rich would spend their time relaxing and recuperating. Much of Ventfort Hall has been restored to its former glory and is a multi-purpose venue serving the community. You can learn more about a fascinating time in American history when society, culture, and industry saw massive changes that reigned in the new century.
There are also theatrical performances, exhibitions, and lectures held here that provide plenty of opportunities for enrichment. See how the other half lived in these restored rooms that sweep you back to a time of opulence.
Address: 104 Walker Street, Lenox, MA 01240
The Mount, Lenox MA
Edith Wharton was one of the Gilded Age aristocracy that didn’t care for the snooty social scene in Newport Rhode Island. Of course, it didn’t help that she was relatively poor compared to the Vanderbilts, Dukes etc. She chose to see it as intellectual snobbery and set up her own social circle in the Berkshires.
Another National Historic Landmark, The Mount was designed by Edith Wharton herself in 1902 based on her first major book, The Decoration of Houses. The Mount is based on an English country house with French and Italian influences. It’s supposed to be one of the haunted places in Massachusetts.
Edith Wharton and her husband only lived at the Mount for 10 years. Her husband had mental issues and her lover was a houseguest. When they divorced, Edith moved permanently to Paris, France.
The Mount is also used for regular community events, such as weddings, music and theater. There is a large scale sculpture exhibit of 30 pieces sprinkled throughout the estate. The magnificent gardens themselves are a great place to rest and relax.
Address: 2 Plunkett St, Lenox MA 01240
Frelinghuysen Morris Museum, Lenox MA
Inspired by Le Corbusier, George Morris in 1931 wanted to build a Modernist studio on a portion of his parents’ estate in Lenox. The studio was the first modern building to be built in New England. When he got married, the studio was expanded to include a house in 1941.
Abstract artists from the 1930’s, George Morris and Suzy Frelinghuysen were not only creators but collectors. The Frelinghuysen Morris house and studio in the Berkshires has been left as when they occupied it and is full of works of early 20th century American and European art, from the likes of Juan Gris, Fernand Leger and Pablo Picasso.
Address: 92 Hawthorne Street, Lenox, MA 01240
Arrowhead (Herman Melville House), Pittsfield MA
New Yorker Herman Melville wrote his most famous work, Moby Dick, at his home, Arrowhead, in Pittsfield. This home of American author Herman Melville is a National Historic Landmark building.
Although the Melville’s lived in Arrowhead from 1850-1863, the furnishings you see are not original but from the period. The Melvilles were happy at Arrowhead but Moby Dick was not a critical or financial success for the author during his lifetime. Herman Melville had to sell up and move back to New York to get paid work.
The views of Mount Greylock from Arrowhead are outstanding and there are walking trails on the property.
Address: 780 Holmes Road, Pittsfield MA 01201
This historic house museum was the summer home of sculptor Daniel Chester French. He is most famous for having created the Abraham Lincoln statue for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C..
Another National Historic Landmark building, Chesterwood replaced an 18th century farmhouse that had stood in its place in 1901. There’s the house, a barn, studio and an extensive garden with sculptures where French his most productive years as a sculptor.
Address: 4 Williamsville Road, Stockbridge, MA 01262
Naumkeag, Stockbridge MA
Run by the Trustees of Reservations, Naumkeag is another Gilded Age mansion with extensive gardens. Built in 1884 for the Choate family from New York, the mansion was designed by famous architectural firm McKim, Mead & White (who also did the Boston Public Library). The house has great panoramic views over the neighbouring countryside. The house still has the original furnishings from the Choate family.
The 8 acres of terraced gardens are really noteworthy at Naumkeag. There is an annual daffodil and tulip festival held at the estate every spring. The whole estate is listed on the National Historic Landmarks list.
Address: 5 Prospect Hill Rd, Stockbridge MA 01262
Bidwell House Museum, Monterey MA
Bidwell House is a Georgian saltbox style of house built as a parsonage for the local minister around 1760. The house contains many items from the 18th and early 19th centuries that showed how middle-class people would have lived, including furniture, decorative arts items, books and documents. Bidwell House is a nice change because so many of the historic house museums in the Berkshires were for the rich.
There are gardens surrounding the house and 6 acres of walking trails on the 190 acre estate.
Address: 100 Art School Road, Monterey, MA 01245
Other Berkshires Museums
Here’s a collection of Berkshires Museums that are not art museums in Berkshires or historic house museums.
Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield MA
What makes the Berkshire Museum Pittsfield special is that they have an extensive collection of historic artifacts and specimens across the fields of natural sciences and natural history.
There’s something for the the whole family at this museum in the Berkshires because the collection at is so diverse. For example, there are fossil collections on display, a massive 143-pound meteorite, shards of Babylonian cuneiform tablets, an Egyptian mummy and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s writing desk.
There is also an extensive art collection, especially from the artists who were part of the Hudson River School, including important works from Albert Bierstadt and Frederic Edwin Church.
Be sure to keep updated on any visiting exhibitions as the museum is known for hosting work by well-known names in the art world such as French impressionists, Paul Cezanne and Auguste Renoir.
The Berkshire Museum is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Pittsfield and one of the great indoor things to do in the Berkshires with kids.
Address: 39 South St, Pittsfield, MA 01201
Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield MA
The Hancock Shaker Village is one of the best museums in Massachusetts as it is pivotal in preserving the unique Shaker heritage. Through many acquisitions and bequeathments, this is now the largest collection of Shaker artifacts and it is made more special by being on an original Shaker site.
Shaker communities are authentic to New England and understanding their religion, lifestyle, and culture will give valuable insight into American history. You can see furniture, tools, household items, and art and textiles on display and experience life in a real Shaker village (complete with costumed guides!).
Address: 1843 West Housatonic St., Pittsfield MA, 01201
Animagic Museum, Lee MA
This small museum is devoted to the artists who live in the Berkshires who work in visual effects. They have created special effects for movies like X-Men and The Matrix and for amusement park rides. It’s a great family-friendly place that kids will love.
Address: 135 Main St, Lee, MA 01238
Crane Museum of Papermaking, Dalton MA
Visit the Crane Museum and learn about the banknote paper that the US currency is printed upon. And, countless high end invitations and announcements. Crane Paper has been an American institution for 250+ years starting as the The Liberty Paper Mill in Milton, Massachusetts in 1770.
The museum explains the science of papermaking and banknote paper. You will learn about the latest in anti-counterfeiting techniques which Crane has been implementing since the mid-19th century.
Kids will like this quirky little museum because there are hands-on activities related to papermaking.
Address: 32 Pioneer Street, Dalton MA 01226
Map of Museums in Berkshires
For your planning purposes, here’s a map of Berkshires Museums, including art museums in the Berkshires and historic homes in the Berkshires.
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