On the first weekend in August, hundreds of design lovers converged on a trio of galleries in the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts. It was the opening of "20/21: Modern Style and Studio Craft," the brainchild of dealers Leslie Ferrin of Ferrin Gallery in Pittsfield, Sienna Patti of Sienna Gallery in Lenox, and Suky Werman of the Barn Gallery at Stonover Farm, also in Lenox.
Thus was ArtBerkshires born, a program of exhibitions and talks taking place through October at the three galleries as well as at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield and the Frelinghuysen Morris House in Lenox. With the period soap opera Mad Men entering its third television season, enthusiasm for mid-century mod has never been higher.
"The Berkshires" has become, of course, its own brand. Not only do the area’s cultural attractions draw tourists, but local arts institutions are also "exporters," sending out valuable and profitable theatre productions, like the Barrington Stage Company's Broadway hit "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," and traveling exhibitions, like the Norman Rockwell Museum’s "American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell" (currently on view in Ft. Lauderdale).
"20/21: Modern Style and Studio Craft" at the Barn Gallery at Stonover Farm, a beautiful rustic space where I was guest curator, was a "bohemian salon" showcasing contemporary studio craft and mid-century furniture and accessories. Hudson, N.Y.-based dealer and period expert Mark MacDonald lent biomorphic upholstered chairs by Nanna Ditzel and a settee by Vladimir Kagan, a Paimio chair by Alvar Aalto and vintage blown glass vase by Tapio Wirkkala (whose day job included designing the Finlandia Vodka bottle).
We combined these pieces with contemporary handmade furniture by designers Peter Superti and Rob Bristow of Poesis, whose work emphasizes the beauty and natural pattern of wood grain, which was a signature look of mid-century furniture makers. Kathy Erteman, a New York-based artist whose work is inspired by the graceful simplicity and luminous colors of the ceramics of Gertrud & Otto Natzler (1908-2007), contributes a ceramic installation that recalls the rigid geometry of mid-century furniture with a contemporary, hand-made twist.
Katherine Bowling’s luminous paintings of rural landscapes echo the beauty of the landscape outside the windows, while a quilt by Denyse Schmidt and nesting ceramic bowls by contemporary Israeli potter Vered Dayan provide the installation with a chic iteration of the traditional handmade esthetic.
At nearby Sienna Gallery in Lenox, "Modern Art + Object" showcases vintage jewelry by the late Greenwich Village-based jeweler Art Smith (1919-1982) alongside furniture by Tom Patti, Wendell Castle and metalwork objects by Myra Mimlitsch-Gray. Smith, who was inspired by Surrealism and made sleek, biomorphic objects, is emblematic of the mid-century studio craft movement. His works were done one at a time, each unique, but echoing the dominant esthetic of organic curves and asymmetry that characterizes much of the furniture, art and architecture of the era.
Over at Ferrin Gallery in Pittsfield, mid-century ceramics by Edwin & Mary Scheier stand alongside vases by Jonathan Adler, the 21st century’s spokesman for the folk-art inspired simple forms that were so beloved in the 1950s. The show features ceramics by Karen Karnes (b. 1925), a New York City native who retreated to the countryside to craft wood-fired pots by hand, and by the contemporary potter Mark Shapiro, another native New Yorker transplanted to a rural studio. Potter’s expressive forms, sometimes thrown and assembled into towering vases displayed in series, keep alive American traditions like salt-firing, which have been practiced since colonial times.
Also participating in ArtBerkshires is Kasten Fine Art in Stockbridge. For more information, see www.artberkshires.com.
SARAH ARCHER is director of Greenwich House Pottery in New York.