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The Berkshire Museum is hosting two exhibits, one looking at the institution's last 45 years and the illustrated manuscripts from the 13th through 18th centuries.
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The latest acquisitions of contemporary art.
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Friends of Wally make an appearance.
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Explaining how so many items are stored.
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A close up of a page.
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Minerals used to create inks.
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Berkshire Museums New Exhibits Illuminate Text and History

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Executive Director Kimberley Bush Tomio and Chief Curator Jesse Kowalski lead a tour of the exhibits on Friday morning.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Berkshire Museum's two new exhibits are illuminating — one looks at the artistic act of handwritten and decorated text and the other at the last third of the institution's history.
 
"Planning for the Future — 1979-2024" exhibits artworks and pieces acquired during this period and a peek into how the collection is stored, as well as addressing 2018's controversial decision to sell off artworks to preserve the deteriorating building and sustain its future. This is the third and final installment celebrating the museum's 120th anniversary last year. 
 
"Painted Pages: Illuminated Manuscripts" includes more than 35 illuminated religious texts from the 13th  through 18th centuries and examples of inks, papers and tools they were made with. This a touring exhibit from the Reading (Pa.) Public Museum. 
 
"I'm just fascinated by illuminated manuscripts. I think they're gorgeous. I think people enjoy them," said Jesse Kowalski, the museum's chief curator, during a press preview on Friday. "You know people don't know enough about them. But to do an educational show that is also entertaining that was something a little offbeat."
 
Kowalski said his interested was piqued when he curated the Norman Rockwell Museum's "Enchanted" exhibition of fantasy illustrations as many of the older manuscripts contained fantasy images and fantasy figures. 
 
"I just became fascinated by the technique and just the amount of time to create these things and I thought I needed to share with the public," he said. 
 
The works from the collection of Otto Frederick Ege, a dean and design professor in lettering, layout and typography at the Cleveland Institute of Art. He began seriously collecting medieval texts in the 1920s and sold separated pages (greatly frowned upon) to universities and libraries but his reasoning was that it was difficult for many to obtain a book but "hundreds, however, may own a leaf." His widow donated part of the collection to his hometown museum. 
 
These illustrated Bibles, prayer books, choir books and other texts including Hebraic and Islamic writings were primarily commissioned by the rich, said Kowakski, and could take from six months to 33 years to complete.
 
"There's a bestiary in which they have 160 different animals painted in one that illuminated manuscript and then some unicorns and griffins and things," he said. 
 
Several artists might work on the lettering, gilding, embellishments and illustrations on largely calfskin in Europe and paper in the Middle East. The still-brilliant colors were created from mineral paints. 
 
As the population became more literate, and the number of people producing them increased and the cost began to decline.  
 
"They had an enormous scriptorium in Paris, and many of the writers were women at the time, too," he said. "They became more of a mass produced thing. And then the printing press came in around 1440 and that was kind of the beginning of the end for the illuminated manuscripts."
 
Scott Schweigert, curator of art and civilization at the Reading Public Museum, was to speak at Friday night's opening and again on Saturday at 1 p.m. 
 
"Planning for the Future" looks at the last 45 of the museum's 120 years and the pieces picked out for this period are definitely more contemporary than the institution's more iconic pieces. With 1980s colors and a nod to the museum's popular Wally the Stegosaurus, it looks at the ups and the downs of the last half century. 
 
Founded in 1903 by Zenas Crane of Crane & Co., the museum was part natural history, part art and very much an expression of Crane's interests — from mummies to porcelains to portraits.
 
The exhibit picks up after the tenure of Stuart Henry, the museum's longest serving director at 40 years and a timeline notes the tenures and the high notes of each director back to 1903. 
 
Not left out is the museum's controversial decision in 2018 to deaccession some 40 works of art to raise $55 million for building repairs and an endowment under then Director Van Shields. That action resulted in lawsuits, including by Rockwell heirs, picketing, angry articles and letters and an investigation by the Attorney General's Office. 
 
In the end, some 22 pieces were sold or auctioned to raise more than $53 million. 
 
Coming from the Norman Rockwell Museum, Kowalski said he had a very different view of deaccessioning but his viewpoint changed completely once at the museum. 
 
"In this panel, I address a lot of these things that I have learned that hadn't been explained and so I think people will come away with a with a different understanding," he said, which was really about the drop in the economy with the departure of GE. "We had to start charging admission by 1991 for the first time ever. And so the museum began a budget deficit every year. And so the endowment would go down, and the building was crumbling at the same time. The floors on the second floor were buckling. There was water coming down the walls when it would rain. You would get some ice on the walls from condensation in the winter. Things like that. And insulation was bad and I don't think a lot of people knew how awful the building was. ...
 
"A lot of it was really, we needed to maintain the building and fix the buildings so that we could keep the museum running."
 
It was really about maintaining and safeguarding what the museum had rather than obtaining new items, Kowalski said, and he thought maybe things were handled well at the time. 
 
"I don't really blame anyone but I also don't let anybody off easy, I think the Berkshire Museum, made some mistakes. I think the press made some mistakes. I think there were were people in the public who were not helpful as well," he said. "So I'm not kind to everybody and so not hard on any one person."
 
With money in hand, exterior repairs, including a new sewer line, were completed and, once watertight, some $3.5 million was used to renovate the second floor. Executive Director Kimberley Bush Tomio said the next phase will be first floor and its aquarium with plans expected to be revealed later this spring.  
 
"I would say that it also gives us the capability to take care of our collections. Conservation-wise, storage-wise," she said. "The next big project that our staff has already focused on is having a more updated collection storage in the lower level yet to be announced and fundraised for but it is something we're looking forward to."
 
Storage is part of the exhibit this time as well, said William Dore, exhibitions manager, who was finishing up some installations that demonstrate how the different works are cached when not in an exhibit. 
 
"I often get is some behind-the-scenes questions when I talk to people about my job, like how many objects are on display at a time? How are they stored?" he said. "This can give people like a bit of a glimpse into how museums do this and how practices have changed over time."

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Pittsfield Announces a Matter of Balance Program

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City of Pittsfield Health Department announced a new program "A Matter of Balance", a nationally recognized evidence-based fall prevention course designed by Maine Health.
 
This four-week program is scheduled to take place on Mondays and Thursdays from 1-3 p.m. at the Berkshire Athenaeum from March 4 to March 28. Participants are expected to attend both days, each week (a total of eight sessions) to complete the program.
 
This program is designed for older adults who have concerns about falling and want to make changes to reduce the risks of falling. Participants will also learn how to increase strength and balance while setting goals for increased activity.
 
This program is open to anyone who:
 
• Is concerned about falls.
• Interested in improving balance, flexibility, and strength.
• Has fallen in the past.
• Has restricted activities because of falling concerns.
 
To enroll in this course, community members must register in advance by calling the Pittsfield Health Department at (413) 499-9411. The registration deadline is February 29.
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