The holiday season is in full swing at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield with the opening of their Winter Festival: Solstice Celebration exhibits.  

The exhibitions are a reimagining of the museum’s Festival of Trees and includes Santa Classics, where visitors can see Santa in some famous classical works of art as well as Hoot’s Holiday: A Solstice Tale, which will take you on a journey through time into the historic Berkshires.  

Zydalis Bauer visited the museum and spoke with organizers of the exhibits to learn more.  

Full disclosure: the Berkshire Museum is a financial supporter of New England Public Media. 

Read the full transcription:

Zydalis Bauer: The holiday season is in full swing at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield with the opening of their “Winter Festival: Solstice Celebration” exhibits.

These exhibitions are a re-imagining of the museum’s Festival of Trees and includes “Santa Classics,” where visitors can see Santa in some famous classical works of art, as well as “Hoot’s Holiday: A Solstice Tale,” which goes on a journey through the historic Berkshires.

I visited the museum and spoke with organizers of the exhibits to learn more.

And full disclosure, the Berkshire Museum is a financial supporter of New England Public Media.

William Dore, Berkshire Museum: We always love Festival of Trees at the Berkshire Museum, and we thought, how do we take the next step and make it a little more inclusive, a little more welcoming for everyone who visited us here?

And we thought, what are the experiences everybody has and everybody could share? And we thought stories, the nature and the outdoors, and food and music, and we wanted to craft an experience around that.

Zydalis Bauer: So, one of the exhibits that is included in this celebration is “Hoot’s Holiday,” which we are in the middle of right now.

And Charlie, I know that this idea fully came from you. You wrote the whole thing. Walk me through how this tale was born and how the idea came about.

Charlie Catacalos, Berkshire Museum: It kind of came about as a really collaborative idea between me and our previous Chief Experience Officer. And we were just talking about how to utilize the rooms that we have in these galleries to make like a really immersive experience and —

William Dore: — and a uniquely Berkshire experience.

Charlie Catacalos: Yeah, Berkshire, immersive, and just very, like, holiday experience that people could come and see. And we also did want to take advantage of the fact that we’re inside.

And so, the story kind of hinges on this owl that lives on the top of the museum named Hoot, and they travel throughout the Berkshires through different times in history. And kind of driving the story is this idea of the winter solstice.

So, they have this magical pocket watch. And so, time is a big driving factor. And also the moon is seen throughout the whole experience rising up and getting bigger and bigger.

And then, that kind of culminates in our really awesome moon installation by the artist Luke Jerram. It’s this ten-foot diameter, internally lit moon that you kind of come around the corner from the gallery and it just really wows you.

Zydalis Bauer: It’s described as a living storybook, and as soon as I walked in, I was like, I see exactly why! Because you feel like you’re walking inside of a book.

Elaborate a little bit more on some of the historic locations that visitors will go on with Hoot the owl and some things that — some fun facts that will get to learn about the Berkshires.

Charlie Catacalos: One of my favorite locations that Hoot visits is a workshop where we talk about the Pittsfield Elm, which was this massive tree that stood in the main square of Pittsfield. And I really like that story because it kind of touches on the way that nature has shaped the Berkshires and how it was an important part of the community even after it fell.

We have a parlor room that belonged to Zenas Crane, the founder of the museum, and we thought it was important to talk about our own history and how we have really tried to bring natural history, science and art into the Berkshires, and we wanted to acknowledge how we’ve gotten to this place today.

Zydalis Bauer: So, in addition to the historic locations that visitors will be traveling to with Hoot, he also collects different objects along the way. What are some of the most interesting objects that we’ll see who collect? And tell me about how you were able to choose that.

Charlie Catacalos: We chose objects that relate to specific places or people within the Berkshires.

For example, there is a French horn that was carried by a man from North Adams that marched in the American Civil War. And I thought that was a really great way to talk about music and how it’s been important throughout history in a lot of different ways.

Another object, one of our kind of star objects that we have, is the desk of Nathaniel Hawthorne that the “House of Seven Gables” was written on that desk.

Zydalis Bauer: So, the second part of this exhibition, honestly, it made me laugh when I saw it, it’s called “Santa Classics.” And you will see Santa pop up and some famous classic works of art.

Will, can you tell me a little bit about the artist Ed Wheeler and his work and how you guys came to be with this exhibit.

William Dore: Right. Ed Wheeler is — is a pretty fantastic artist. He has some local connections that we, and we met. And his work really is, as you said, inserting digital images of himself as Santa and these various classical works of art.

He goes through a bit of an extensive and varied process to select which works and how exactly Santa is being inserted in. But really, he — he, I think, is just trying to promote the whimsy and fun that is so important to the season.

Zydalis Bauer: I think, when I was looking through it, the “Vitruvian Man” from Leonardo da Vinci, that one stuck out to me. I don’t know why it made me laugh, I think it was like the contrast of the neutral color with the red and white.

What are some of your favorites from “Santa Classics?”

Charlie Catacalos: I really love the American Gothic, which we have above the fireplace. I think it looks great up there. The expression that he has is really funny.

William Dore: I really like the Van Gogh Starry Night. He’s taking a little bit of a different tack, not really replacing a character in the scene, but just kind of dressing it up a little bit for the holidays.

Zydalis Bauer: So, how do you think that both of these exhibits complement each other and really share that — that holiday spirit with the community?

William Dore: I think it is a little more immersive. It’s a little — it can connect to people in a way that we really want it to, directly. When you go through the different spaces, we’re asking people to — to write what they love about the holidays, like their favorite music, their favorite stories, their favorite foods even, and it’s is really fun to get that extra level of direct connection with other people in the community.

Zydalis Bauer: Well, and I know that that was also one of the elements from the previous Festival of Trees. There was a lot of community engagement with business owners and other community members coming in to decorate the trees.

How important was it for you all to maintain that component of community engagement within this new re-imagined celebration?

William Dore: I think it’s very important, right? Whenever we do anything here, we’re doing it to serve the community, right? And so, we really value and want to capture that in both what we are putting out for them and how we serve them.

And when they actually come in, they can see these different spaces and reflect upon their experiences. So, if they can do that here, that’s great.

Zydalis Bauer: What would you like visitors to leave with once they have taken Hoot’s Journey and had a couple of laughs viewing “Santa Classics?”

Charlie Catacalos: I hope that when people come, they leave with this kind of excitement for the holidays and especially for the holidays in the Berkshires. Just having that really local focus I think was really important for us and just capturing the feeling of this great time to be in Pittsfield right now.