Bringing 'Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas' to life

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STOCKBRIDGE — Without getting a ticket, Tony Carlotto will park his 1955 Mercury Montclair in the middle of Main Street on Sunday in front of the Red Lion Inn.

The cherry-red classic car will have a Christmas tree strapped to the roof, pointed westward, just as in Norman Rockwell's iconic 1967 painting "Home for Christmas."

Carlotto's Mercury will be among the dozens of vintage vehicles bringing to life the artwork often referred to as "Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas."

"The car is the closest one around to the 1956 Ford in the painting," he told The Eagle.

Carlotto's participation in the two-hour event will cap the annual, weekend celebration, "Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas," centered around the oil and acrylic image. Since the mid-1990s, the president of the Sheffield Historical Society has faithfully arrived in his Mercury for the Sunday finale of three-day event, except for 15 years ago when a nor'easter kept him home

"I had a four-foot drift in front of my barn and I couldn't get my car out," he recalled. "It was the only year I have missed; I felt so bad."

Up to two feet of snow fell on the Berkshires the weekend of Dec. 6 and 7, 2003, keeping all the classic cars home — except the 1960 American LaFrance fire truck owned by Tom Barry of Lenox. Carrying a Christmas tree prone in the back, the truck stood in for Carlotto's Mercury on that less-than-picture-perfect Sunday.

"We closed only half the street due to the snow, but everyone still had a good time," said Barbara Zanetti, executive director for the Stockbridge Chamber of Commerce.

Since 1990, the chamber has organized "Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas," which draws a family-friendly crowed of 4,000 to 5,000. The holiday event has evolved from simply recreating Rockwell's painting on the first Sunday in December to a three-day holiday festival that kicks off Friday evening at the Stockbridge Library, Museum & Archives for readings of classic seasonal stories. Saturday's events features a holiday house tour and children's holiday sing-along, each starting at 11 a.m. The evening activities highlighted by community caroling and a holiday concert — already sold out.

The Sunday depiction of the painting has also grown from just representing the 16 cars Rockwell painted to 60 classic cars lining both sides of Main Street between Elm Street and Park Street (Route 7).

The 1955 Mercury is a drawing card, popular with both regulars and first-timers to the recreation, Carlotto said.

"I once had a couple want to propose in front of [the car], and I said, 'Get in the car and do it,'" he said. "They did and we took their picture."

The 1960 American LaFrance remains popular — Santa Claus arrives on the back of the fire truck, ready to hear what the children want for Christmas.

Other activities include, street performers entertaining kids of all ages, hot food and beverages sold streetside and a horse-drawn wagon ride.

After overseeing the majority of the previous 28 re-creations, Zanetti finds the Rockwellian scene practically sets itself.

"The antique car owners know where to go," she said. "If you fit the Rockwell painting, you go in front of then Red Lion Inn, or the Yankee Candle Shop (former town offices building)."

The re-creation isn't exact; Rather, it's intended to capture the spirit of Rockwell's meaning behind "Home for Christmas," originally done for the December 1967 edition of McCall's magazine.

"Rockwell painted Main Street, Stockbridge, in 1967 to epitomize the essence of Christmas in small towns across the country," according to the Norman Rockwell Museum website.

The view across Main Street from the library to the Red Lion Inn looks much as it did 51 years ago, architecturally, but today their are more trees lining that side and the buildings are decorated with lit garland, Christmas trees and wreaths. Except for a lit tree in the window above the Stockbridge General Store and outside the library, the painting his devoid of holiday decorations.

Nevertheless, the current look of Main Street in Stockbridge still captures the spirit of the painting, according to Michele Kotek, director of rooms at the inn.

"If you stand in front of the wall at St. Paul's (Episcopal Church) across the street, it's breathtaking to see the Red Lion Inn lit and it complements the painting," she said. "Norman Rockwell would be proud of how we've decorated the town."

One aspect of the painting is beyond the organizers' ability to depict: the snow-covered mountain range that Rockwell used for a backdrop doesn't exist.

"For the sky and mountains, Rockwell used photos of snow-draped mountains in the Berkshire Hills, Vermont and Switzerland," states the Rockwell museum website.

While the live version of "Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas" has been tweaked over the years, organizers see themselves as stewards of Rockwell's vision of Christmas in small-town America.

"We don't want to change it; we're creating a simpler time," Zanetti said. "You want to maintain what Rockwell depicted."

Nevertheless, Kotek, a 20-year veteran of helping plan the Rockwell celebration, looks forward to the downtown holiday block party.

"To see the look on everyone's faces as they walk the street ... or the children waiting to sit on Santa's lap. I just love Christmas," she said.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.


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