Dutch treats springing up in The Valley

Email|Print| Text size + By Christina Tree
Globe Correspondent / April 2, 2006

AMHERST -- In the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, thousands of tulips and daffodils are about to bloom, heralding a season bursting with art exhibits, concerts, lectures, and films relating to Dutch culture.

''GoDutch!," the first valley-wide cultural celebration, was inspired by ''Dutch Treats: Contemporary Illustration From the Netherlands," an exhibit at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art here.

Featuring 80 works by 14 artists, it is a visual treat, but what is most remarkable about the GoDutch! celebration is the ease with which other nearby museums have mounted creditable Netherlands-related exhibits.

''We didn't ask them to do anything major, just pull from their collections," said Nora Maroulis, director of development at the Carle Museum.

''The Golden Age: Dutch Prints and Drawings" at the Smith College Museum of Art in Northampton (through June 4) showcases no fewer than 45 works on paper from the 17th century, including several by Rembrandt. A wall in the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College is hung with similar etchings by Dutch masters, including Rembrandt. In nearby South Hadley, the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum has mounted an exhibit titled ''Designing the World Through Dutch Eyes," featuring two newly acquired 17th-century Dutch paintings, as well as period prints by Rembrandt and others.

While perusing the GoDutch! exhibit at Smith, visitors will also find one of the richest collections of 19th-century and contemporary American and European art in the Northeast, and at the Mead, Robert Henri's stunning painting of ''Salome" is a feast for the eyes.

Also in Amherst, the University of Massachusetts Gallery frequently hosts noteworthy shows -- such as its current exhibit of experimental paintings and abstract wall reliefs by the contemporary Dutch artist, Avery Preesman.

Elsewhere in Amherst, the National Yiddish Book Center not only offers two visual exhibits, but also a Sunday series of concerts, films, and lectures related to Dutch Jewry. This handsome wooden complex, designed to resemble an Eastern European shtetl, is a short stroll from the Carle Museum. Both adjoin the Hampshire College campus.

''Within a dozen miles here you have all these cultural riches, minus urban hassles like parking, plus remarkable natural beauty," said Carol Angus, director of information for Five Colleges Inc., a consortium among Amherst, Smith, Mount Holyoke, Hampshire, and UMass-Amherst.

When it opened in 2002, the Carle Museum was the country's first big museum to showcase children's book illustration. The museum's staff was the catalyst for the formation of ''Museums10," a nonprofit cultural consortium that obtained a $50,000 grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council to fund the GoDutch! celebration.

Special GoDutch! exhibits and events will continue through August, and there will be special displays throughout the valley, from Historic Deerfield and Memorial Hall in Old Deerfield to the Quadrangle Museums in Springfield. Restaurants, hotels, and bed-and-breakfasts across the region are also taking part.

The 30-plus members of the Five College Area B&B Association have planted 4,000 tulips and daffodils to add beauty to the GoDutch! celebration. A complimentary ''GoDutch! Passport" will allow people who visit at least six participating sites to enter a drawing to win a 10-day trip to Amsterdam and Bruges, Belgium, next year.

Even without the special plantings and other GoDutch! promotions, this is one of the best times to visit The Valley, as it is known locally. Along with blooming bulbs come apple blossoms, followed by lilacs, and freshly picked asparagus sold along the roadsides.

Contact Christina Tree, coauthor with William Davis of ''The Berkshire Hills & Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, An Explorer's Guide," (Countryman, 2004) at ctree@traveltree.net.

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