"Mastheads": Lichtenstein exhibit showcases plan to recreate studios of five Pittsfield literary giants

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Photo Gallery | 'Mastheads' opens at the Lichtenstein Center

PITTSFIELD — Consider: Pittsfield once was stomping grounds to mainstay authors who helped invent modern literature — Melville, Wendell Holmes, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Longfellow. Could the city again become a literary haven?

A new Lichtenstein Center for the Arts exhibit showcases one way city arts planners hope to make it so.

The exhibit, Mastheads, features models of five writing studios designed by architects Tessa Kelly and Chris Parkinson. Should fundraising efforts succeed, the studios will be built next year at various places in the city.

Each of the studios is themed after one of the five historical Berkshire authors named above, and located near where each did his work. Once built, the studios will, with luck, house the next crop of game-changing local writers.

"There are not many physical relics of this literary network left in the city," Kelly said, "so it was a question of how do we preserve the storyline through the creation of new physical spaces."

She dubbed the endeavor "projected preservation. ... Which is [historical] preservation that creates something new," she said.

"It's an ongoing research project of ours, thinking about historic preservation and the creation of new programs that can enrich contemporary life in the small American city."

Kelly said the goal is to have the studios completed by summer 2016. Aspiring writers will apply to the program, which would accept five of them. Then, for the month of July, those writers would occupy the studios by day and return to Hotel on North for lodging by night.

The program would then repeat every year in July.

"Every year it will be five new writers, so the group that has been part of this literary network in Pittsfield will continue to grow," Kelly said.

Kelly and Parkinson's Lichtenstein exhibit features wooden concept designs of the studios — and landscapes of each of the hopeful studio sites: near Pittsfield High School for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, near Arrowhead for Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville, Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary for Oliver Wendell Holmes and near the Springside House for Henry David Thoreau.

The pair received a $75,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant to help them realize the vision. Construction, though, depends entirely on donated funds.

"It's moving to see what the Berkshires was to [the authors] in their writing," Parkinson said. "The Berkshires and Pittsfield were five different things to each of these authors, which added up to one unified place. That's one of the goals of the project — to have everyone start thinking in a similar way about where we're from."

Jen Glockner, director of the city's Office of Cultural Development, said residents will start to see signs of the project taking shape in the city between now and next summer through partnerships with Berkshire Athenaeum, Berkshire Museum and Berkshire Historical Society.

"It's important to bring the historical authors to the forefront and realize they were a part of Pittsfield history," Glockner said. "Hawthorne's and Melville's wives bought shoes right out there on North Street. It's pretty cool."

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.


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