An Old-Fashioned Christmas

Picnic Basket
Picnic Basket

Norman Rockwell was one of America’s foremost artist illustrators. He once commented on not having an idyllic life and how this affected his work. “Maybe as I grew up and found the world wasn’t the perfect place I had thought it to be, I unconsciously decided that if it wasn’t an ideal world, it should be, and so I painted img_1706only the ideal aspects of it.”  Rockwell’s “perfect world” was created in the paintings of small-town America that graced the covers of The Saturday Evening Post Magazine for five decades. And the models for those paintings were his friends and neighbors in the town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, nestled up in the Berkshire Hills.

(If it sounds familiar to you, that’s because it’s where I created my own idyllic farm and the setting for my ZuZu Series.)

Every year during the first weekend in December, Stockbridge honors their favorite son by hosting the Norman Rockwell Weekend. He lived there from 1953 until his death in 1978 and his studio was in the center of town overlooking Main Street.  Charley and I decided to enjoy the festivities last weekend while shooting some photos for the next book in the ZuZu Series which will be a Christmas Tale.

We arrived on Friday evening and headed for the General Store where a kind woman named Theresa led us up stairs to unlock the studio where Rockwell worked from 1953-1957. I needed to get a picture from the inside looking out. Now, it’s an empty room with just a Christmas Tree set up in the window. But I could imagine Rockwell there, arranging his local models into the poses that became so familiar to Americans when I was growing up.

After taking a few more pictures inside Williams and Sons Country Store, we walked along  the street, looking in store windows and stopping at the Red Lion Inn to chat with the women in the gift shop. Both of these gift shops and the ones at  Tanglewood and the Botanical Garden are places which graciously have been carrying  A Berkshire Tale since it was published.

Then we headed to The Garden Gables Inn. The fireplaces were roaring, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and hot coffee were out on the side board and Jayne was there at the door to greet us.img_1239

That night, we sat in front of the fireplace and made plans for the weekend.

On Saturday, our first stop would be the Berkshire Botanical Garden where there would be home-made crafts and wreaths on sale and free mimosas to sip while strolling through the market tents.

We had purchased tickets for the tours of historical houses decorated for the holidays and planned on spending Saturday afternoon soaking up a bit of local history.

Later, we would have dinner at a cozy bistro, Once Upon a Table, before  attending the caroling on the porch of the Red Lion and after that, we  had tickets for a concert at the Stockbridge Congregational Church. It promised to be a very old-fashioned celebration indeed!

On Sunday we would attend the morning church service and then on to Main Street to experience the town’s recreation of Rockwell’s famous painting, Home for Christmas, 1967 complete with antique cars, horse-drawn wagon rides, Roger the Jester, face painting, a high school jazz concert at St. Paul’s Church and  carolers. Mr. and Mrs. Claus were scheduled to arrive by fire truck and spend time with those who wanted to whisper their Christmas dreams in Santa’s ear.

And that night, with visions of sugarplums dancing in our heads, Charley and I fell asleep dreaming of an old- fashioned Christmas in The Berkshire Hills. Just the type of holiday ZuZu would love – with lots of happy endings. “God bless us, everyone!”

 

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82 thoughts on “An Old-Fashioned Christmas

  1. Must be the month for picture posts! Great shots, and what a truly amazing experience being in Rockwell’s (empty) studio, wow. Why was it empty, btw? Wonderful photos… makes me both want to be there, but also glad I’m not because it looks so c-o-l-d! 🙂 – Marty

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    1. Marty, Rockwell rented that studio from 1953-1957. A studio was built on the grounds where the Norman Rockwell Museum is now and that is where he worked until his death. In his last years, he was struggling with dementia and he would be brought to his studio where he worked cleaning brushes and straightening, but he did not paint. The original studio over the Stockbridge General Store is rented out, There is the large room, a bedroom and a small kitchen and bathroom. It was vacant and so I was able to arrange to take some photos for my next book in the ZuZu Series which will be set during Norman Rockwell Weekend. And yes, it is cold and they were expecting snow on Monday. It can get quite deep which is very frustrating for little ZuZu.

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    1. Dearest Lucy, Whitney House is now a private Home. It once was a Stagecoach Inn. The booties are to keep the mud out of the old wood floors and the carpets. They were expecting a few hundred people that day. We were early birds, so the crowds were not too bad. And yes, we are still hearing about leaving Roxie behind. She is demanding to write another post about the trauma of it all. Live, Ethel.

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  2. I’m fascinated by the pictures, which must be photographs with an oil painting finish. Am I right – and if so is this done in printing and developing the old fashioned way using screens or a setting on the camera? Either way they are very effective.

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    1. Believe it or not, Lucinda, I use a mini iPad to take the photos, edit them and then use an App called Brushstroke to get the effects I want. It’s really simple. The trick is to set up the photo correctly when you take it, so the end product will be framed properly. I’ve been doing this for a few years, so I know what I’m looking for when I take a pic. I was an army photographer back in my twenties and I used a Minolta SRT 101 with different filters and lenses. And then I developed the film in the dark room and made the final prints. This is so much easier and I can do lots more prints, too. Clare

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    1. You’re welcome, Lorrie. I’m glad I set my children’s stories in the Berkshires because I love to spend time up there. Charley likes the climate here in RI much better because he golfs and we don’t get as much snow along the coast as they do up in them thar hills. I could live up there and just settle in during the snowy winters reading and writing stories in front of a fire. But, I do that here in South County, too. I don’t think we’ll be back to Stockbridge until the late spring when everything is thawed. I’ll just have to write about it. Thanks for stopping by. Clare

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    1. Hi, Sharon. Well, we’re home and probably won’t get back to the Berkshires until April or May. It’s a great place in the winter if you do snow-related activities, but we’re a bit more sedentary now. Thanks and I’ll be by to visit soon. Clare

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    1. A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you too, Yvette. I think the lighting was just right this weekend, because the effects were better than usual. I made the photos into prints and am using them for Christmas cards. I love the one of Santa waving. When I took the picture with him, he was making me laugh by saying things like, “I demand a recount!” and “It’s rigged!’ I think he must read my blog when he’s not listening to the wishes of little children. Thanks for the retweet! Clare

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  3. Hi Clare,
    we’re in count down mode(one weeek to moving!). But LOVED this post and your magical pictures. You really captured the parts of Christmas I love so much! The first year we drove to the Cape 40+ years ago we stayed in Stockbridge. I loved it. I know the pictures will be wonderful in your Christmas Zuzu tale.

    Last night I walked all over town photographing our quaint town but you take much better photos! Got to get back to work. So glad I got to read your post on my “break!” Love you you and Charley! Jo

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    1. Jo, I’m back to a semblance of “normal” now and look forward to spending time reading your posts. I know how busy you’ve been and that Doug is scheduled to be operated on in two weeks. He’s in our prayers. I truly love the look of your new house and that cashmere tree will be truly stunning wherever you decide to place it.
      It must have been nostalgic to walk around taking those photos. Your little town is also one of the memorable places to live in and to visit. Lots of good wishes to you and Doug in the next few weeks, and I’ll keep in touch. 🎄 (not cashmere and certainly not feather) 🎄 Love, Clare

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    1. Osyth, how are you? Are you dancing, yet? Really, you have to get up to the Berkshires the next time you cross the pond. Yes, I do love mixing work with pleasure or mixing pleasure with just about anything. Take care and stay warm. Love, Clare

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  4. Loved your weekend travelogue, with wonderful photos of small-town America holiday celebrations, decorations, & traditions. You & Charley look great! Merry Christmas, dear friends!

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    1. Hi, Becky and Bill. We were just looking at the newest Viking Cruises catalog and thinking of you this week. All is quiet here in South County with a few trips up north. It’s early morning and I’m sitting by the fireplace listening to Christmas music and visiting with people who stop by the blog. You’ve certainly been loyal followers from the beginning and I just want to say “Thanks”. It is a way to keep in touch with people far away. Hope all is peaceful around your place. I’ll be sending out the cards soon and I’ll choose one with music I think you would like. Take care and Charley and I wish you and your family a Very Happy Christmas. Your old vacation buddy, Clare

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    1. I’m happy to have introduced you to Rockwell. He was severely criticized for his work being too saccharine for some tastes, but he’s withstood the test of time and become very famous. After he left the Saturday Evening Post, he did some wonderful paintings on Civil Rights Issues and they are displayed in the Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. The first time I went to the museum, I was taken aback with the absolute beauty of his talent. The covers of the Post did not do his incredible skill justice. I did put links in the post to lead you to the museum sight. Hope you found it enlightening. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your thoughtful comment. 🎄 Clare

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    1. Charley and I really started the season with a trip to Boston to listen to the Messiah at the Boston Symphony on Thursday and then up to enjoy the Rockwell Weekend. Now I’m home in front of the fireplace with Roxie and ZuZu on a frosty Friday morning returning to normal and visiting with blogging friends. I’m hoping all is well in Scotland and that you’re staying in the Spirit. Have a lovely holiday, Mary. Your New England friend. Clare

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      1. Mmmhm, the Messiah really is Christmas.
        Well, it’s grey and drizzly here and unseasonably warm! I think it will change tomorrow and be colder but brighter. I hope so as I have a friend coming to stay and we want to go out walking. I have to get the local history book to the publisher during the week and then I can start organising for Christmas!
        By the way, I don’t blame you for still avoiding the news.
        Have a lovely holiday with Charley and the cats.

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      2. Mary, It was a marvelous concert put on by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society. The program explained the origin of standing during the Hallelujah Chorus. It seems King George was so taken when he first heard it, that he stood through the chorus and the end of the concert. So, his subjects were forced to stand. Some conductors feel it disrupts the performance, but some actually stop and let the audience applaud before continuing. You can choose to stand or not, depending on the director of that concert. We stood.
        I hope you have a lovely walk with your friend and a peaceful holiday.
        Roxie wants to write the Christmas post and I just might let her if she behaves for the next two weeks. your New England friend, Clare

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    1. I love capturing a memory so that I can relive it later on at home. I was standing in front of that red car, waiting to take a photo, when the young fellow knelt down and asked his girl friend to marry him. I just kept on shooting and she jumped up, hugged him and then looked at the crowd that had gathered. Putting her arms in the air, she yelled out, “Eight years!” It was classic! Thanks for the lovely comment.

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    1. Russ, I can just see that beaming smile! I’ve always loved his work and the Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge is awe-inspiring. His Civil Rights Paintings bring me to tears. Such a skilled artist who was not so good with interpersonal relationships.
      I understand why we both appreciate him. I’m heading over to your blog, now.

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      1. Thank you, I am editing my Christmas Special video episode yet, I will publish it next weekend right before Christmas to greet you and my other Friends! Hope you will like it. A teaser – it will be snowy walk with Ann…Hugs and best wishes!

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  5. Beautiful pictures Clare. What a lovely weekend you must have had. When I was a child growing up in Australia my American aunt used to send Christmas gifts and cards like your pictures. The snowy Christmases seemed so exotic to me while we sweltered in summer heat.

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    1. Robyn, It was freezing here in RI on Saturday and Sunday and now it’s warm. I planted some hyacinth bulbs! Up in the Berkshires (2 1/2 hours away) it snowed and they canceled school on Monday. New England weather takes some getting used to. I did not know you had an American aunt.Or maybe I read it and it slipped my mind. (like lots of things these day) I really enjoy going up to the Stockbridge area. I feel like it’s my second home and it always makes me want to write another ZuZu story. When I’m here in Kingston, I feel like writing local murder mysteries. Not sure what that is all about????? Stay cool.💥 💨⛄️

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      1. Funny how place affects what you are inspired to write. I feel the same. Place is often a character in my stories. Like Louise Penny, some stories can’t take place anywhere else. Bit disturbing about Kingston bringing on murder mysteries though 😯 I wouldn’t have told you about my mother’s sister. She was a war bride- married an American airman and left Australia to live in Montana. Her husbands family were Native American. He was devastatingly handsome and charming. She was a drummer in a big band during the war years. That’s how my dad met my moth

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      2. Robyn – Place is always the biggest inspiration for me. I love settings.
        If you ever visit Bernadette at Haddon Musings, she does a piece on women and her last one was about a female drummer in a big band during the war years. I contribute a post to her Senior Salon sometimes on Wednesdays.

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  6. Yo Yo Clare > Cheers for a lovely post. What would be in your picture then? I could see the view out of his window, That would have been inspiring enough. This is the most festive post I’ve read so far. We never really feel it in China. Hope you are well Clare > you look really happy in the photo with your other half 🙂

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    1. Hi, Andy. Charley and I have had a really good year. His cancer is in remission and we’re happy to have more time together. Something we were not sure of a few years ago. So, we’re very happy and thankful. He’s been wanting me to do a Christmas book and we were in Stockbridge to take some photos for ideas for the illustrator and to talk with the store managers who have A Berkshire Tale. I’m already marketing Christmas on Main Street – ZuZu’s Homecoming and it won’t be out until next September! Self publishing has many facets, but you know that, I’m sure. The photo is of the Christmas Tree in Rockwell’s studio window. It will be a picture in the book with the kitten under the tree looking out onto Main Street at the Festivities. The cover will be from the outside, looking up at the kitten under the tree sitting in the window at night with snow falling on Main Street. The photos came out well and Zach, the illustrator, will have lots of ideas to work with. When we went on the historic house tours, a woman in the gift shop at Ventfort Hall showed interest in carrying the book. So, it was a festive and a productive weekend all around.
      I know that the celebrations in China will be for the New Year. When Shengdong and Milanda were here, we had an American Christmas for them and they loved it. We decorated a real tree, hung stockings by the fire, unwrapped gifts, made gingerbread cookies, had a turkey dinner and went to the midnight candlelight service at church. Milanda still talks about it. When we Skype, they enjoy hearing about the things we’re doing for the holidays. Charley and I decorate and play Christmas music all of December. Roxie hates all the changes around the house and she’ll probably write about it next week.
      Has your life gotten back to normal? And how is that book going. The Youtube project seems to be coming along well. I missed “chatting” with you while you were traveling. It’s good to hear from you. Stay warm! ☃️ Clare

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      1. Hiya Clare. Oooooo you’re making me feel festive. Zu Zu’s home coming sounds great. Count me in 🙂 Yes it has been a while. I think I’ve not been able to find a spare second lately to do anything. I was thinking How on earth did I ever write all of those books and then I remembered, I didnt have a blog at all or do anything on social media while I was writing. I guess that’s the ticket. Glad you’re enjoying the YouTube. If you havent already pls subscribe as its so slow getting it off the ground. Still really enjoyable though. I am very warm today as am off work sick which is why I’ve got the time to drop by and say hello to my ol’ mate 🙂 What does Roxie think of the Christmas tree though?

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      2. Roxie is ignoring the trees, at the moment.It’s the manger scene and the snowmen that bother her the most as they are in her settling places. Every so often she swats at one of the figures in hopes of it crashing to the ground and breaking. Then she looks up innocently as though she has no idea how it all fell apart.
        Yes, I’d get much more of my books completed faster if I didn’t have a blog. But the blog does help me to hone my writing skills and keeps me in touch with REALLY interesting people and places. (like you in China) Writing a book, on the other hand, is a very solitary business.Sharing the process with others makes it fun. I’m sorry you are under the weather. You must visit one of those wonderful Chinese herb stores you’ve written about. Get well soon and I will subscribe. Going back to your blog, now. Clare

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  7. I’m only vaguelly-familiar with Norman Rockwell’s work, Clare, but your photos are lovely and it looks like you had a great weekend.
    The phrase ‘Small town America’ always conjures up, in my mind, the movie Pleasantville. Have you seen it?

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  8. I love this post! The pictures and the narration make me want to hop on a plane and go there today! I love looking at Norman Rockwell’s paintings in a wonderful book I bought years ago in San Diego at an exhibition of his work. They remind me of happy, family times. Happy New Year to Charlie, you and all the creatures around ZuZu’s barn. Lori

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    1. Thank you. I really enjoy the Berkshires and have used the area as a setting for the ZuZu stories. And I love to take photos and use the brushstroke App to make them look like illustrations. I haven’t been blogging for a month due to much Hustle and Bustle, butI thank you for stopping by and I’ll be visiting you right after this.

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