Artist Ed Wheeler inserts Santa into famous paintings in the exhibit 'Santa Classics' at the Berkshire Museum.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Berkshire Museum is reimagining its popular "Festival of Trees" exhibit with a new "Winter Festival" to improve inclusivity.
"I think the winter solstice celebration is a destination for people who are ready for the holidays, they want to bring their family in and actually have an adventure," Executive Director Kimberley Bush Tomio said.
"It's a way to get out of the cold and also to get into a beautiful place to see what's available in your town, Pittsfield, in the Berkshires community, and just explore on your own. It's great and it's a great family experience."
Throughout the month of November and December there will be events and opportunities to view their new holiday-themed exhibits "Santa Classics" and "Hoot's Holiday."
Each of the exhibits in combination with the various events the museum will be hosting will attempt to recreate the exciting yet comfortable feeling of the holidays.
The exhibition successfully launched on Nov. 12 with an opening night celebration that drew approximately 200 community members to the Winter Festival and performance by Paul Winters.
About 600 people visited the museum this past week.
The former "Festival of Trees" exhibit invited businesses, schools and individuals to express themselves and their diverse cultures by decorating a Christmas tree.
"[The Festival of Trees] was kind of a fun party celebration and we tried to keep a lot of the spirit of what you would get out of visiting a holiday or winter exhibit intact," Exhibitions Manager William Dore said.
"But another big part of it was always community engagement. And I think you'll see that. We tried to keep some of that spirit in the different rooms, as well."
Although people still showed an interest in participating in the festival it was expressed to the museum that various factors made it difficult to do so, including the repercussions of COVID-19, staff capacity, or lack of time to go and decorate the tree at the museum.
Through the Winter Festival, the museum wants to keep the feeling that residents got when participating with the trees while also demonstrating what the Berkshires are like during the holiday season.
"When you think about the Berkshires, you think about the outdoors, for people who remember, that massive elm tree that's in the middle of Pittsfield, but we all have our own separate space that we like. We want to be able to reflect that," Dore said.
And so, the Winter Festival was born in an effort to not only relieve this strain on local businesses but to also improve the inclusiveness of the show so it didn't focus on just the Christian belief.
The Winter Festival not only attempts to hold onto the community engagement but also demonstrates the beauty and opportunities that the county has to offer to visitors from outside the area.
The exhibition "Hoot's Holiday" is one example. The story follows the journey of Hoot the owl as they try to prepare for a winter solstice party by traveling through time and visiting historic locations around the Berkshires.
"When I was writing it, we just really wanted to have something that could be more inclusive. I'm not just primarily focused on Christmas, to go along with the rest of our Winter Fest with the Santa Classics, and the big Christmas tree in the Crane Room," Exhibitions Research and Content Editor Charlie Catacalos said.
Making use of the constricted room and the galleries, they wanted to create an immersive experience through the story that would appeal to a wider range of people, Catacalos said.
"If you go into our permanent collection, it's kind of the objects that lead you to the story. You might be attracted to the mummy and then you read about it or there's the interactive on the wall but I think what's really cool about this exhibit particularly is that the story leads you to the objects and the objects kind of enhance the story rather than the other way around, which I think is really cool," Marketing and Brand Manager Cody Baffuto said.
As Hoot gathers all the items they need for their celebration, participants can become part of the story by leaving messages saying what they would bring to the party.
The exhibition attempts to make the visitor feel like they, too, are going on Hoot's journey. In the end they return to the present and celebrate the winter season by looking down at the cities, surrounded by trees, and listening to the sounds of the owls.
This scene from nature helps create the cozy feeling the holidays in the Berkshires bring.
"I didn't set the exhibit like they did, but it kind of captures in a non-secular way, the wonder of Christmas. But in this kind of rethought, reimagined way," Baffuto said. "I think that it captures the wonder of Christmas. It really just takes into account the holiday season and it's very specifically Berkshire oriented."
The exhibition "Santa Classics" furthers this emotional experience by bringing the joyful humorous component into the picture.
Artist and photographer Ed Wheeler reimagines classic paintings by superimposing himself as Santa into it with humor and a great respect for the originals.
"Ed's intent is to pay homage to the original paintings while offering art lovers an additional reason to smile. Once a painting is selected, he embarks on a multi-step process to fully integrate Santa into the lighting, brushstrokes and tonal values of a particular painting while maintaining the fidelity of the original," the Santa Classics website said.
"It is this attention to detail, lighting and relationships between figures, which lead to another kind of art experience."
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