Becket Arts Center examines the past

Thursday September 6, 2012

BECKET -- "Take a look at this, isn't it a beauty?" Rob Gordon asks as he motions to Paul Campbell to come over and inspect a colonial-era tavern sign that is enclosed in a rollable glass case.

"Its just really fantastic -- it's great," Campbell says, as he eagerly snaps a few pictures of the sign with his camera.

The two men are standing in a room in the Becket Town Hall filled with treasures from a bygone past. Gordon, chair of the Becket Historical Commission, points out items of interest in a room full of curiosities. Vintage postcards of Becket through the years are framed on the walls, while a large case of antiquities stands next to the tavern sign.

Gordon is showing Campbell, administrative coordinator at the Becket Arts Center, the various historical artifacts the town has archived from the 18th century to the present in the hope that some of them can be incorporated in the center's new exhibition, "Insight into the Building of our Community: Becket and Washington," which opens with a reception tomorrow night, and runs through Sept. 22.

Organized by the arts center, the exhibition is part of a larger series of talks and tours meant to give visitors and residents of Becket and Washington a glimpse into the collective past of these two communities. Over the next three weeks, local historians will lead talks on different aspects of the towns' histories.

The inspiration behind this program came from a lecture on Becket history given at the center last year that drew a surprisingly large audience of Becket residents and people from other communities in the Berkshires, Campbell said.

"We found people were curious and interested in knowing about their town's past," he said, adding that there wasn't an easy way for Becket residents to learn about their town short of digging through the archives themselves.

That will change this month, when the center's first floor art gallery will make room for a display of historic artifacts from Becket and Washington. Some of the items will be culled from town archives, while other materials will be loaned to the center by Becket families whose roots trace back through the history of the town, which was first settled in 1740 and officially incorporated in 1765.

Campbell said it is fitting that the series is based in a building steeped in local history. Located in North Becket Village, one of two national historic districts in the town, the center is housed in the 1855 Seminary Building, the first consolidated school in the area. It's a two-story, pale yellow building complete with a bell tower that no longer rings -- an architectural window to the past that BAC President Joan Lipson Davidson-Winston said hasn't lost its original purpose for education.

"We're still educating a wide variety of people," Davidson-Winston said, citing BAC's 42-year history of offering arts lectures and cultural programs to adults and children in the region. "I'm fascinated every time I hear something about what Becket was, and I think this program is going to surprise people."

Charles Francis, an amateur historian, found some surprises of his own while conducting background research for his talk, which closes out the month's events. Without teasing the subject of his presentation, Francis said he hopes to offer some interesting anecdotes about Becket that he discovered while digging through its past.

Francis relocated to the town with his wife in 2008 to be closer to their children who live in the Berkshires. Wanting a slice of local history, the couple purchased two historical buildings -- the 1895 town office and firehouse, and the former 1910 St. Matthews Catholic Church next door. The church is now a two-bedroom home, and the couple hopes to lease out the former town office once renovations are finished.

"If we don't restore buildings and take care of what we have, the past gets lost," Francis said.

It's a past full of stories that Campbell said is important to hold onto.

"It's good for all of us to look at how things have changed, and how they continue to change," Campbell said. "We're writing our own history right now, we just don't see it."


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