Every year around Christmas, Stockbridge, a small town in western Massachusetts, puts on a display unlike any other in the US. The celebrated American artist Norman Rockwell, who passed away some 30 years ago, used the New England town as the setting for his painting of an idyllic American Christmas.
Each year, on the first Sunday of December, the Stockbridge Chamber of Commerce mobilizes the entire community to recreate the scene from "Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas," one of the most renowned oil paintings by artist Norman Rockwell. Cory Kanzenberg is the curator of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge.
"The original idea for Stockbridge at Christmas was actually conceived in 1956, '57 when Hallmark card corresponds with Rockwell on the idea of an image of an American main street which will symbolize Christmas in America," he explained.
The Red Lion Inn was built in 1773 and is one of the oldest buildings on Stockbridge's Main Street. But there is one small difference between the inn now and how it appears in Rockwell's original painting. Michelle Kotek, the current innkeeper of the Red Lion Inn, explains.
"When Norman Rockwell originally painted it, the Red Lion Inn was dark because it was only open seasonally in the summer, because it had no heat. But when the Fitzpatricks purchased it, they opened it year round. It is now filled with light and life all year round," he said.
Other buildings involved in the recreation include the Berkshire Bank, the Yankee Candle shop now housed in the former Town Hall, three variety stores, Rockwell's old studio, and the Stockbridge Library.
Antique cars are another prominent feature of the painting. Doug Goudey prepares the antique cars used in the recreation
"The picture contains cars from 1949 to 1957," he said. "We invite local cars owners to come. [Their cars] do not have to be from that period but we try to get more cars of this period on this side. Not an exact creation but a more generalization of what you will see in the picture. We do have a couple of cars that come here on a regular basis. One car is going to be a 1957, I believe. It parks in front of the Red Lion Inn. As in the original picture, there is a Christmas tree on the car as it is being delivered to a family. And that car will be parked in front of the Red Lion Inn with a Christmas tree on top."
The recreation of the Rockwell painting is the culmination of a whole weekend of holiday attractions and activities.
Visitors from around the country enjoy the holiday spirit.
TOM (TOURIST): "We were here before a couple of times and I made the reservation at the Red Lion Inn about a year ago because I knew it would be very difficult this weekend when I heard about the festival. I made the reservation back then and then I thought it would be a good place to ask Nancy to marry me."
NANCY (TOURIST): "So he did it! So he is not my boyfriend anymore!! He's my fiancé!"
RICHARD WILCOX: "If you look at the Norman Rockwell painting of Christmas, that's my memory. Growing up in Stockbridge was a Norman Rockwell kind of Christmas. There were happy times, kids and presents and all of the things that were in the painting."
MICHAEL JOHNSON: "I am a photographer. That's one of my hobbies. What better place to photograph good Christmas scenes than right here in Stockbridge?"
After the festivities, Stockbridge goes back to its daily routine. Until next year, when it will be again be transformed into a vision of an ideal American town at Christmas.