Arriving in Paris after leading a scientific expedition through northern China, Sterling Clark was just another Boxer Rebellion veteran and Yale-educated engineer looking for something to do with the inheritance of his magnate grandfather, Robert Clark, who was an heir to the Singer sewing-machine fortune. Like the countless men who found themselves in the same position, Sterling did the only thing left to do at that point of his adventurous life: invest in art.
Sterling and his wife Francine both displayed a discriminating eye for art in their first year of collecting, almost immediately acquiring a piece by the sought-after painter Hyacinthe Rigaud, who was famous for his portraiture of 17th-century European nobility and drawing the most realistic-looking stick people. The Clarks' tastes evolved over time, and their collection ballooned to include more than 30 paintings by Renoir and dozens of works by other impressionist artists.
In 1955, a year before Sterling passed away, he and Francine founded their art institute, where the museum's curators presently stay true to the couple's artistic interests. French impressionism still forms the crux of the collection, but the museum's scope is ever expanding and nowadays includes works of early photographers and American painters and a rotating schedule of well-curated special exhibitions.
For more than a century, the Berkshire Museum has blended history, science, and art into a cohesive whole, drawing inspiration from both the Smithsonian and the American Museum for Natural Science. The museum is packed with wonders ranging from Wally—the fiberglass stegosaurus who guards the museum’s entry—to the John James Audubon display, an impassioned tribute to the very ornithology that prompted Audubon to pen The Birds of America. Other, more playful displays unveil additional wonders, including Alexander Calder's collection of wooden push and pull toys. And inside the vast, salty aquarium, a teeming collection of clownfish, blind cave tetra, and puffer fish swim merrily side-by-side, thankful that they've yet to be cast as members of some trite, underwater calypso band.
In the summer of 1850, a moderately successful writer brought his young wife, Lizzie, and their baby, Malcolm, to the town where his father grew up, Berkshire. Seduced by its picturesque countryside, the writer impulsively bought a farm, which would become the family’s home for the next 13 years and the place where he penned a novel that would change the face of American literature: Moby-Dick.
Today, the Berkshire Historical Society maintains the farmhouse where Melville sharpened his quills, gazed out the library window, and drank in the view of Mount Greylock, whose statuesque peak supposedly inspired the elusive white whale that taught Ahab to use his nose as a blowhole. The house was old even then, as it was originally built in the Georgian style back in 1780, acquiring Federal-style details in the 1840s. Careful preservation allows visitors to wander through Melville’s study and gaze upon the fireplace featured in his short story I and My Chimney. They can also observe the piazza that makes an appearance in The Piazza Tales, and see the restored barn where Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne whiled away the hours with deep literary conversation and video games.
In addition to pondering the rooms where Melville lived his days, visitors peruse furniture, portraits, and clothing from the Berkshire Historical Society’s collection of artifacts and enjoy exhibits and events such as plays. Those who make appointments in advance can also immerse themselves in the manuscripts, atlases, oral-history tapes, and photographs that populate the Margaret H. Hall Library and Archives.
Established in 1791, the Albany Institute of History & Art has been chronicling artistic expression longer than the Louvre, the Smithsonian, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Visitors acquaint themselves with an eternally revolving set of exhibits, including Hajo: An Artist’s Journey, which documents Hans-Joachim Richard Christoph's work in package design incorporating the bold, stylized graphics of the Berlin school of graphic design. Visitors can sidle up to one of the permanent exhibitions, such as the panoramic landscape art of The Landscape that Defined America: The Hudson River School or the ornamentally preserved remains of Ancient Egypt, an exhibit that spotlights the Nile, the Egyptian concept of afterlife, and ways to reposition a mummy into a hip-hop mummy.