Williams College Museum of Art: Art with a personal touch



15 Lawrence Hall Drive, Williamstown.

(413) 597-2429; wcma.williams.edu

Founded in 1926 to give Williams Students a chance to study works of art, WCMA is free to all comers, all year. The museum houses nearly 13,000 works from ancient civilizations to contemporary Los Angeles and likes to show art with a sense of the time and place and people it comes from. In 2001, the museum commissioned "Eyes (Nine Elements)," a permanent outdoor sculpture by Louise Bougeois. Visitors have said they look like giant lighted snails.

Season: Year round.

Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. New summer hours starting July 20: Daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Admission: Free


• Museum shop

 Coffee bar next door in Goodrich Hall, open 6 a.m. to midnight during the academic year

Low-cost or free admission highlights:

 Art and aperitif al fresco. Gallery talks or performances on Thursdays weekly, 4 to 8 p.m., July 11-Aug. 29. Art walks; behind-the-scenes tours; gallery talks; Williamstown Theater Festival actors improvise in the galleries; Debate Society actors discuss their WTF production, "Blood Play."

 Spotlight Gallery Talks. Saturdays in July and August, 2 p.m.: highlight a sculpture, print, or painting.

 Getting to know Joan Mitchell's "Sunflower VI." Tuesday through Friday, June 18-July 19.

 Founding documents come to life. Williamstown Theatre Festival actors read the Declaration of Independence and the British reply on July 4, 2 p.m. Galleries open 1 to 4 p.m. to show the documents themselves. 


1. Tina Olsen, WCMA's new director, enjoys the architecture of all kinds of buildings -- farms, cemeteries, town centers.

2. She grew up in New York City and had never lived in a small town until she moved to Williamstown. She loves the sense of deep community here, she said, and the people she runs into all the time.

3. She and her husband have two children, Alice, 10, and Sonia, 12, and the girls enjoy the museum too.

We all can understand pleasure in a beautiful object, says WCMA's new director, Tina Olsen. People may appreciate design in a car they like or in work they have done on their house.

"My husband is an artist, and he grew up in Iowa," she said. "His artistic experience came from cemeteries, from the carvings on tomb stones. Maybe your experience comes as a knitter or a baker."

In a networked and digital world, she said, something you can hold and touch matters. She loves talking with people about the objects that matter to them: a photograph of their child, a pinwheel quilt their grandmother made, a gift or something handed down.

She wants to "help people to see the power of story, to know it and believe it because it's your own felt experience," she said.

That feeling that something belongs to you, that it has power because it touches a deep part of your life -- that's what she wants visitors to feel when they walk through the museum.

WCMA has a new program to loan students art to hang in their dorm rooms, she said -- so students can live with a painting, make it part of their everyday world and get to know it. Seeing it every day, they can think about it in new ways.

North Adams beekeeper David Lachman moved to the Berkshires 10 years ago and has spent time at the Williams College Museum of Art regularly since then.

He remembers his son making a head-dress and bracelet like ones the muscled and bearded Assyrian statue wears. He remembers free drawing classes, the energy of the college art majors' show, and Indian and Persian miniatures.

"I'm always attracted to religious art, regardless of the tradition," he said.

Lachman's 7-year-old son, Ariel, enjoys WCMA too. Ariel started coming to WCMA kids' programs when he was 3, and this year he has come with his dad to parties in WCMA's new monthly series.

In January, Hannah Van Der Kolk "turned the whole museum into a 1960s happening," Lachman said, "with performances you could join in. It's cutting edge. You have to go to New York to see this, and here you can see it free."

WCMA is a teaching museum, so exhibits change often, Lachman said. He enjoys the variety, but he also likes to come back to see familiar paintings.

"You get to be friends with them," he said, "because they're up all the time."


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