Thursday October 11, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- After recently checking out iconic installations, sculptures, and landmarks greeting museum-goers in the Berk shires -- Mass MoCA’s "Tree Logic" and WCMA’s "EYES" -- I found the Berkshire Museum’s "Wally" clearly aimed to please the younger set.

Wally -- the Berkshire Mu seum’s purple-hued stegosaurus -- will celebrate his 15th birthday on Sunday.

His lasting appeal is clear. He draws children to him -- hey, come closer: Museums are fun! Attract the children, and the parents will naturally follow. And while children may marvel at the upside down trees in North Adams, or climb all over the EYES of Williamstown, Wally (at 1,200 pounds and 22 feet long, with 10 feet of tall,) is arguably the favorite.

It was, in fact, a child who named him: Young Levi Bissell received that honor for coming up with the best suggested name of those entered in the initial naming contest -- Wally, because, Levi reasoned, his brain was the size of a walnut.

From Barney to the dino saurs of the popular Steven Spielberg film, "Jur assic Park," the extinct creatures have long held a fascination over children’s imaginations. But the fascination holds "for children of any age," because many taller people (who were once children themselves) have an emotional link to the fiberglass Stegosaurus outside the museum.

For those who live here, Wally has become as reliable as the sun coming up: there when the leaves turn in the fall, and going nowhere during a slow-falling snow in winter.


Advertisement

Look left going south on Route 7, or right going north as you approach the city’s central roundabout, and there he’ll be, looking still and in motion at the same time.

It’s hard not to look, as if we want to make sure that he’s still there, that this is one dinosaur that hasn’t become extinct.

Though he has a permanent home at the Berkshire Museum, Wally arrived in the Berkshires in 1997, said Lesley Beck, communications director at the Berk shire Museum, and he has actually made three minor moves since then. His most recent one came in 2000, when the front entrance received a makeover that allowed for a new ramp, offering better wheelchair accessibility. But given his girth, any move at all is no minor thing, and Wally seems pretty settled in his current spot, at least for the foreseeable future.

While it may be hard to imagine a time when he wasn’t there, Wally did have a former incarnation before 1997 -- and we’re not talking about the time when he was a more animated plant-eating dinosaur that could have been spotted 150 millions years ago in the Western part of the United States.

This "Wally," the one made of fiberglass, first emerged onto the world stage at the New York World’s Fair in the early ‘60s. Designed by wild life sculptor Louis Paul Jonas of Hudson, N.Y., Wally ap peared as the first Stegosaurus in the Sinclair Dinoland exhibition, Beck said. He then spent 30 years at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

He made his way east a little more than 15 years ago and received a total make over at the Jonas Studios in Claverack, N.Y. The Berk shire Wally, Beck said, is effectively a second dinosaur ade from the same mold as the earlier one.

Technically speaking, Wally is in his late 40s, but in the Berkshires he is in his mid-teens, counting from his complete rebirth once he made his way to the Berk shire Museum (thanks to the generosity of Carol and Tom McCann).

While Wally will always be a favorite of children, for the Berkshire Museum Wally is more than a child’s playground. Given its threefold mission (Art, History and Science), Wally covers two of these bases, and arguably three: Many would say reasonably that Wally is as much a piece of art as any other object inside the museum.

But regardless of whether he’s a piece of art, sculpture, an installation of sorts, or a symbol for the museum’s focus on history and science, it’s time to raise a glass to Wally: 15 and fabulous. May he stay forever young.