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Dan’s Diary: The Berkshire/Cape Cod Connection

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The contemporary Flume Fountain at Heritage Gardens & Museums on Cape Cod.

If you ever wondered why Ellen Spear left her plum job as president and CEO of Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, you’ll understand after visiting her at the magnificent Heritage Gardens and Museums in Sandwich, MA, which is a couple of miles from the Sagamore and Bourne Bridges. One of the best kept secrets on Cape Cod, the 100 acre campus is a lush, multidisciplinary fantasia that Spear is planning to rebrand as the “Museum of Summer.”  The former country estate of Mr. and Mrs. J. K. Lilly III, it includes several gardens (densely planted with Dexter rhododendrons, day lilies, hostas and hydrangeas)  an antique automobile museum (coincidentally housed in a replica of the Shaker Village’s iconic round stone barn) two other museums (with one of the best collections of folk art in the United States), and an indoor working carousel from the early 20th century with a companion exhibit Flying Horses about the history of carousels in America and the Italian immigrants from Brooklyn who carved many of the iconic horses.

Rural Intelligence Road TripsAs Spear, who became the executive director of Heritage in March, strolls the meticulous grounds, she confesses that she feels liberated from the contraints of the Shaker’s utilitarian aesthetics. At Heritage, form and function are often frivolous—like a rococco Cadillac convertible and the plethora of day lilies—and unapologetically fun.  If the Shakers had children, they might have approved of Hidden Hollow, the new certified Nature Explore Classrooms situated in a two acre dry kettle hole with everything made from natural materials “You can let your kids run and play free here which is something fewer and fewer children get to do anywhere anymore,” says Spear. “It’s a beautiful spot for non-electric learning.”

Rural Intelligence Road TripsAnd Spear is already tapping her Berkshires connections and consciousness to enliven Heritage. She is especially excited about working with the Norman Rockwell Museum’s Laurie Norton Moffat (with whom she co-chaired the Berkshire Creative Economy Project in 2007) to bring two Norman Rockwell exhibits–Picturing Health: Norman Rockwell and the Art of Illustration and Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera—to Heritage for the summer of 2012. “Believe it or not, there has never been a Rockwell exhibit in the Boston area,” she says.  As we walk past the tented Magnolia Cafe restaurant, she mentions that “I am encouraging them to adopt a farm-to-table menu.”

So if you are headed to Cape Cod this summer, plan to stop for an hour or two at Heritage Museums & Gardens on the way, or keep it mind as the perfect rainy day activity. Ellen Spear will be very pleased to see you.
Rural Intelligence Road Trips
The round stone barn car museum photographed by Kevin Sprague

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Posted by Dan Shaw on 06/19/11 at 02:44 AM • Permalink