With wit, heart and a timeless sense of humor, Norman Rockwell brought the holidays in the Northeast to life with his illustrations.
Perhaps none captures his skill better than “Home for Christmas (Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas),” a sweeping painting on view at the Norman Rockwell Museum as part of its “Home for the Holidays” exhibit.
The snow-covered street is lit up by the glow of a few businesses and the mountainous skyline in the background. Children skate in the street, as families take wintry walks in the foreground. The cars are all dusted with snow and one is topped off with a sizable Christmas tree.
Stretching across more than 95 inches, the piece is displayed behind a velvet-roped barrier, for good reason, as the piece urges viewers to come closer, to pick out each tiny detail.
Hung beside it is another favorite, “The Discovery.” The boy at the center gasps after pulling out a Santa Claus costume, presumably from his parents’ dresser. It was the last in a long line of Christmas covers Rockwell illustrated for the Saturday Evening Post. What a perfect note to end on.
Throughout the exhibit are other classic holiday scenes from Rockwell, like the cheerful “Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit” and the somber “Son of David.”
But Rockwell isn’t the only artist capturing the holiday spirit at the museum this year.
Intricate and imaginative work by artist and children’s book illustrator Jan Brett is also on view. Brett, a Massachusetts resident, is known for stories such as “The Mitten,” “Home for Christmas” and her “Gingerbread” books, among many others.
Dozens of original illustrations seen in her books are on view at the museum in an exhibit titled “Jan Brett: Stories Near & Far.” It includes the festive scenes from her book “The Nutcracker.” In one, a fearsome dragon blows fire on a spit of roasting donuts as two characters look on. Framing the illustration are snapshots of scenes with other characters so that readers get a deeper view of what’s going on in the story outside of what they see in the main panel. It’s a technique Brett uses in many of her stories to the delight of young readers.
In another illustration, from a book called “Cozy,” Brett’s impeccable watercolor skills shine with her depiction of an Alaskan muskox with a heavy coat of fur, posed with an Arctic fox. Behind them is a vibrant sky filled with the greens and blues of the Northern Lights.
The exhibit also shows the sugary side of Brett’s illustrations, with the high jinks and adventures of the artist’s gingerbread character, based on the folktale “The Gingerbread Boy.”
Appropriately, the exhibit begins with a painting of Stockbridge’s Main Street, which echoes Rockwell’s depiction. Brett’s piece shows mostly the tops of the same snow-covered buildings, with a sweeping, vivid blue sky rising above them. The piece is framed by a rich red with scenes of reindeer flying and Santa Claus reading a list.
The two exhibitions are an ideal mix of winter works for children and adults alike. The week following Christmas, there will be readings by Brett as well as take-home activities. There is also a scavenger hunt available via nrm.org.
The museum encourages visitors to buy timed tickets ahead of their visit. As of Dec. 26, proof of COVID-19 vaccination along with valid photo identification will be required for visitors 18 and older. Museum hours are 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. It will be closed from Jan. 3-7. For tickets and information, visit nrm.org.
Museum of Science and Innovation
The model train show is back at miSci, bringing together chugging locomotives, spinning amusement park rides and a bustling freight yard.
The 19-by-27-foot display includes five tracks. Visitors young and old can control the trains, speeding them up as fast as they can go, turning on all the bells and whistles as they zoom past.
MiSci has brought out the display around the holidays for years and it often draws people from every generation — from great-grandparents to young children, each of whom finds a different sort of connection with the display. For the older generations, it brings a sense of nostalgia, and for the younger generations, it’s a favored holiday tradition. According to museum staff, when the display went up the day after Thanksgiving, more than 200 people came in just to see the trains and many had specific requests, asking staff to run certain rides or trains they remembered from years past.
“The kids are just all about it. It’s so great,” said Rich Darling, development associate of miSci.
This year new lighting and crossing gates have been added to the display, which is cared for by a team of volunteers who work to keep each of the model trains chugging. Some are vintage models dating back decades; others are a bit newer.
Beyond the display, an adjoining exhibit of photographs and works of art speak to how trains transformed transportation and impacted the growth of the United States. Highlights from the gallery of 50 works include an 1895 photograph taken by famed General Electric engineer Charles Steinmetz of New York Central’s Empire State Express, a steam locomotive that was built in Albany and set a world record by traveling 112 miles per hour. There’s also a photo of the largest locomotive ever built, known as Big Boy, which weighed 1.2 million pounds. And there’s a 1932 illustration by Walter Greene commissioned by GE to promote a line of streamlined locomotives.
The display and exhibit will be on view through Jan. 16. During the school break, miSci will host classes for children in kindergarten through fifth grade focused on the train and transportation-themed exhibit. Students can attend for full or half days. Each full-day is $55 and half days are $35. For information, visit misci.org.
Albany Institute of History and Art
Trains are also in focus at the Albany Institute with the exhibit “Romancing the Rails: Train Travel in the 1920s and 1930s,” featuring illustrations by Greene, as well as Chesley Bonestell, Henry Dreyfuss and others. It’ll be on view through February.
The Institute has also brought out 10 of Joan Steiner’s look-alikes for the holiday season. The carefully crafted scenes feature everyday objects and edible treats that were photographed for Steiner’s book series. They’re dotted throughout the museum and will be on view until Feb. 27.
For information, visit albanyinstitute.org.