WILLIAMSTOWN, MASS. — Inside the galleries at the Clark Art Institute's Lunder Center atop Stone Hill in Williamstown, the rings of a massive root ball from a fallen tree count the years when it stood tall under the open sky. Nearby, the hollow eyes of a cow skull once found buried in a field stare balefully. Bird songs inscribed like notes on a stave hang on the wall opposite a rifle once used to hunt bear, while columns of dirt stand sentinel, their layers bearing witness to the forces of man and nature. Overhead, a seemingly endless surveyor's chain traces the outlines of the gallery walls.
Together, these memories and artifacts form part of the far-ranging exhibit "Sensing Place: Reflecting on Stone Hill" co-curated by former colleagues Mark C. Taylor, sculptor and professor of religion at Columbia University, and Henry W. Art, a professor of biology and environmental studies at Williams College. Both live on the hillside, near neighbors to the Clark and each other. The exhibit they have imagined, on view through Oct. 10, reflects the richly layered history and presence of the natural landmark, with cultural relics, geological studies and thoughtful commentaries building a picture of place in an increasingly far-flung and disconnected world.
On Sunday, Oct. 2, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the Clark will celebrate both the Stone Hill site and exhibit with a free Family Day filled with activities geared for all ages. The education team has conjured up a diverse array of engaging offerings that include eco-art seed collages, tarot readings and performance art by environmentalist Shira Wohlberg. DJ Don Harris will serve up dancing music starting at noon, followed at 2 p.m. by an energetic drum circle led by percussionist Otha Day. The traveling Haiku Guys and Gals collective will create custom haiku on the spot, and poet Adrianna Brown will encourage contributions to a community haiku installation.
Families are invited to bring a picnic or purchase food on site, and transportation will be available to facilitate access to the hill. Severe weather cancels the event.
As one of a pair of special events that highlight the day, Williams music department faculty member Matthew Gold has commissioned a site-specific piece titled "Second Growth" by composer D. Edward Davis for 34 musicians including the Williams Percussion Ensemble and members of the Handbell Choir, Concert Choir, trombones and electronics. Over the course of an hour, starting at 11 a.m., the performers will merge into ever-changing small groups as they walk slowly around an acre of Stone Hill near artist Thomas Schütte's architectural installation, "Crystal."
"When you're inside that installation and you look out, it frames your view," explained Gold. "In a sense this piece does something similar, acoustically or sonically, although it's multiple frames as opposed to one."
As the players move across the open air site, they listen and interact with, imitate, improvise and leave space to hear what's around them. Audience members can choose to walk alongside or among the musicians, or remain in one location.
"It's a way of focusing the ears on the sound that's already there, the insects, the birds, the forest in the distance, pretty much everything," Gold said. "Each listener will have a completely unique experience."
Another highlight is the return of "Kite Day," a beloved college and community tradition, which originally ran from 1961 to 1975, when Williams College professor Lee Hirsche challenged his 3-D art class to design, build and fly original kites as their "final exam." The much-anticipated annual event attracted students and town folk alike who flocked to watch dozens of colorful and highly imaginative kites soar in the breeze.
"[Hirsche] arranged for bands to come, and kids would be enthralled," recalls the professor of art of those earlier days. He has revived Kite Day as an informal competition between Williams art and physics classes, "aesthetics versus aerodynamics," as he describes it, with the kite creations set to launch on the hill at 1 p.m.. Onlookers are welcome to bring or borrow kites to join in the high-flying fun.
Gallery admission is free and open to everyone all day Sunday, including the special exhibit "Splendor, Myth and Vision: Nudes from the Prado," which also closes on Oct. 10.
IF YOU GO ....
What: Stone Hill Family Day
Where: Clark Art Institute, 225 South St., Williamstown, Mass.
When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 2
Cost: Free admission all day 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Information: clarkart.edu, 413-458-2303