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This fall in the Berkshires, outdoor art rivals the foliage

At Chesterwood, sculptor Jonathan Prince asks us to look beyond the surface and form of his work.Diane Bair

Adding to the allure of the Berkshires this fall: eye-catching, engaging outdoor art exhibits. This season is especially rich with al fresco art. Here are some shows to consider for your color-drenched autumn getaway.

Now you see it . . .

Undulating. That’s the word that comes to mind as you wander the grounds at Naumkeag House & Gardens, looking for glimpses of metal in the landscape that bob, weave, and wiggle with the breeze. Twelve playful kinetic sculptures by American artist George Rickey (1907-2002) dot the bucolic property, now managed by the Trustees of Reservations but once the summer retreat for New York City lawyer and diplomat Joseph Choate, his wife, Caroline Sterling Choate, and their five children.

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Rickey’s sculptures have been shown at Naumkeag in the past. This special solo show, called ViewEscapes and curated by Mark Wilson, features 12 large-scale pieces placed in the gardens, plus eight smaller sculptures and three works of art displayed in the summer cottage.

Trained as a painter, Rickey lived and worked in nearby East Chatham, N.Y., for much of his life. His father was a mechanical engineer and his grandfather a clockmaker, so perhaps Rickey inherited the engineering skills that would enhance his artistic talents. Like Alexander Calder, a fellow 20th-century artist who became known for kinetic sculpture, Rickey created three-dimensional art that moves.

Mother Nature provides the motion. Naumkeag is an ideal setting for George Rickey’s works, Wilson says. “The hillside location has a near constant breeze that sets each of the sculptures in motion, with the dramatic views of the distant Berkshire hills as a backdrop.” The sculptures are geometrically shaped, simple cubes, squares, and triangles that fold and unfold, pivot, swoop, and frame the surrounding countryside. Made of brushed stainless steel, balanced with counterweights, gimbals, and ball bearings, the silvery forms reflect their surroundings.

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And what surroundings! This 44-room Gilded Age summer cottage, completed in 1886, was designed by McKim, Mead & White. The mansion is enhanced by 49 acres of terraces, gardens, sloping lawns, and pasture, with a view of Bear Mountain. Daughter Mabel Choate inherited the estate in 1929 and, with landscape architect Fletcher Steele, “added her own special touches, creating a garden of whimsy and surprise,” says guide Julia Gorman. Locust trees are cut to resemble lollipops, for example, and pink cement thrones adorn an “outdoor room” in the garden.

Rickey’s kinetic sculpture plays perfectly with this lively setting. The work is full of surprises, in a “now you see it, now you don’t” way. A piece called “Unfolding Square III” (1994) folds and unfolds, transforming from a square-in-progress to a three-dimensional square. In “Horizontal Column of Seven Squares Eccentric” (1996), the squares arrange and rearrange themselves into a vertical or horizontal column, a shifting sculpture designed by the wind. Walking down a tree-lined alee, you could easily miss “One Line Horizontal Floating” (1994), until a long blade falls into place, “a kinetic line drawing in space,” as Rickey described it.

At first glance, these metallic shapes may remind you of farm equipment and windmills dotting farm fields and pastures, especially if you hale from a rural area. As you draw closer and sense their movement, the pieces are mesmerizing, and reminiscent of nature itself — of flitting butterflies, falling leaves, and tall grasses bending in the wind. Written descriptions can’t really capture the magic of this. It’s meant to be seen, especially with the enchantment of color-shrouded hillsides as a backdrop.

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At Naumkeag House & Gardens, 5 Prospect Hill Road, Stockbridge; through Nov. 1, 2022; https://thetrustees.org/place/naumkeag/.

George Rickey’s sculptures are on view on the grounds of Naumkeag through Nov. 1.Diane Bair

Not what it seems

Meanwhile, sculpture of a different kind is entrancing visitors at Chesterwood, the summer retreat and studio of sculptor Daniel Chester French, now a site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Known for the Barn Gallery, highlighting French’s major works, and a studio with lavish views of the Berkshire Hills, Chesterwood has become a showcase for contemporary art in a stunning natural setting. More than 600 artists have shown work here since 1978.

Showing now through Oct. 24 is “Elemental Matters: The Sculpture of Jonathan Prince.” Ten large-scale pieces, Prince’s most recent metal works, are set within the wooded grounds of the property. (An additional work, “Iota,” is an interactive, augmented reality piece.) Initially, you might mistake them for wood, stone, or liquid. “The fluidity of matter explores the idea that things we see may not always be what they appear,” according to curator Cassandra Sohn, a photographer and the director of Sohn Fine Art in Lenox (www.sohnfineart.com). A companion exhibit, “Fluidity of Light,” featuring smaller works by Prince, is on view at Sohn Fine Art through October.

Born in New York City, Prince worked as a surgeon until 2002, returning to an early passion, sculpture. He’s been living and working in the Berkshires for the past 20 years, focusing on the mutability of metal and elements of geometry to create stunning and thought-provoking pieces.

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Made of brushed stainless steel, George Rickey’s sculptures are designed to reflect their surroundings. Shown here is Two Open Triangles Up.Diane Bair

“Rumination,” for example, resembles an upright wooden log mercilessly chewed by a beaver, but is in fact CorTen steel (weathered steel with a rusty appearance). The piece represents a rumination on depression, anxiety, and “the delicate balance that’s required to find equanimity,” according to the artist. “Alembic Cube,” made of CorTen and mirror-polished stainless steel, looks like wood but with the layers pulled away, revealing an unexpected interior. Here, the artist “asks you to look beyond the surface and form and consider what’s really inside,” Sohn explains. By the time you reach “Torus 340,” you’ll realize that the recognizable round shape with a section removed represents a concept deeper than what your eye immediately registers as a doughnut with a bite taken out of it.

At Chesterwood, 4 Williamsville Road, Stockbridge, through Oct. 24. www.chesterwood.org. (Note: Chesterwood closes for the season on Oct. 24.)

More outdoor art to put on your itinerary

The Guest House at Field Farm, a Trustees of Reservations property in Williamstown, has collaborated with the Williams College Museum of Art to show Counterculture by mixed media artist Rose B. Simpson of Santa Clara Pueblo, N.M. The sculptural artwork consists of 12 cast-concrete figures standing 10 feet tall, installed along the horizon line of a meadow at Field Farm. Adorned with ceramic and found objects, the work honors marginalized people and cultures. On view through April 30, 2023; 554 Sloan Road, Williamstown; https://thetrustees.org/exhibit/counterculture/. (Note: There are also 13 permanent sculptures at Field Farm.)

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For additional suggestions, visit https://berkshires.org.

Pieces like this one, “Untitled Circle” (2002), demonstrate how artist George Rickey used his kinetic sculpture to frame the landscape.Diane Bair



Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@gmail.com