There’s more than natural beauty to see for those tooling around New England this fall. For those who also have a taste for culture, three consortiums of art institutions (with an occasional natural history museum thrown in) can help travelers focus their plans.
The newest of these is Museums10 in Massachusetts’s Pioneer Valley. Museums10 comprises six art venues, two historic sites, the Beneski Museum of Natural History at Amherst College, and the Yiddish Book Center.
“It’s like a mini Smithsonian, but in multiple locations,’’ says Alexandra de Montrichard, Museum10’s communications coordinator.
Formed in 2005 under the auspices of Five Colleges Inc., which helps link programming at local academic institutions, Museums10 holds regular meetings of its participating directors, curators, and communications staff, so they can plan programming and support each other.
That active collaboration has prompted occasional cross programming, such as last year’s “Table for 10,’’ for which every museum created exhibitions and educational projects on the art, history, and science of food.
Now the group has devised seven self-guided itineraries, tailored to interests such as “Art and Nature,’’ “Contemporary and Modern Art,’’ and “Adventures with Families.’’ One itinerary, titled simply “Interact,’’ takes visitors from story time at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art to the apprentice’s workshop at Historic Deerfield, then to listen to classic radio programming at the Yiddish Book Center and a romp through the public art collection at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Even when no joint exhibitions are planned, themes can arise serendipitously. This fall, there has been an unusual number of photography shows at Museums10, including “El Muro: Photographs by Eduardo Hernández Santos’’ at the Smith College Museum of Art through Nov. 20, which also has a memorial exhibit of photos by Jerome Liebling through Jan. 29. Hampshire College Art Gallery offers “The Legacy: A Daughter’s Experience of the Holocaust,’’ photos by Beth Burstein, Nov. 1-19. “World Documents,’’ at Mount Holyoke College Art Museum through Dec. 18, examines contemporary documentary photography.
But there’s no need to restrict yourself to photo exhibits. The Mead Art Museum at Amherst College marks the sesquicentennial of the start of the Civil War with “Disunion! The American Civil War 150 Years Later,’’ up through December. And the Eric Carle Museum celebrates Jules Feiffer in a show opening Oct. 25.
The Connecticut Art Trail, the granddaddy of New England museum trails, started as the Impressionist Trail in 1995. You can plan your museum-hopping geographically, or according to how your passions coordinate with the 15 institutions on the trail. While Impressionism is a great place to start - Connecticut is steeped in the history of American Impressionism - the trail’s website offers more than 20 themes around which to organize your trip, from gardens and landscapes to African art. The itineraries include hotel and dining recommendations.
Plus, the Connecticut Art Trail offers one bonus that others do not: A $25 art pass for admission to any of the member museums within a two-month period. These include an array of art institutions, such as the Yale Center for British Art and the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, and some venues that blend art and history, such as the Weir Farm National Historic Site in Wilton, Conn., where three generations of artists lived and worked, starting with American Impressionist J. Alden Weir.
Just a couple of morsels to whet your appetite for art in Connecticut: “Drawings by Rembrandt, his Students and Circle from the Maida and George Abrams Collection,’’ at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich through Jan. 8, and photos by Patti Smith at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, through Feb. 19.
Maine has famously provided inspiration for American artists from Winslow Homer to Rockwell Kent to Edward Hopper. The seven institutions on the Maine Art Museum Trail, which was created in 1999, are rich in the history of Maine artists from Ogunquit to Augusta. Along this trail, you’ll find four college art museums and three independent ones - the Farnsworth Art Museum, the Portland Museum of Art, and the Ogunquit Museum of American Art.
While some of these museums mount their splashiest exhibits for the summer tourism season (the Ogunquit museum is open only through October), there’s still plenty to see in the off-season. For instance, the Farnsworth Art Museum has a Louise Nevelson exhibit up through the end of the year; the sculptor was born in Rockland, Maine. The Portland Museum has a collection of Shaker art on view starting Oct. 27, and the Bowdoin College Museum of Art mounts an exhibit of work by street photographer Todd Webb, opening Oct. 28.
The Maine Art Museum Trail website includes a regional attractions page, which will help you pad your art appreciation with visits to sites such as the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum in Brunswick or the Waterville Opera House.
If you’re venturing to other New England regions, you won’t have a ready online trail map to guide you. But we’ve come up with two clusters of museums that may be worth a weekend away.
The far side of the Berkshires has a terrific array of museums. If you go, don’t miss Mass MoCA in North Adams, which has some of the most original contemporary art programming in the region. In Williamstown, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute has a stunning collection featuring 19th century European and American painting and more. Coming up and opening Nov. 13: “Rembrandt and Degas: Two Young Artists.’’ The Williams College Museum of Art is a small gem in Williamstown with an eclectic range of exhibitions, and the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge has a show of that artist’s dog paintings up through Nov. 11.
A slew of small but worthy museums merit visits in Vermont. These include the Bennington Museum, which has a collection focusing on the history and art of the region (with a big Rockwell Kent show planned for next summer - that guy got around). The Brattleboro Museum & Art Center is in a historic (and still working) train station; it currently has an exhibit of pastels by local resident and big-time artist Wolf Kahn. The Shelburne Museum is a quirky place, with a campus of historic houses and an array of galleries including the “hat and fragrance gallery,’’ not to mention a varied collection of American art - but get there fast, the museum is open only from May through October. Plus, there are art museums at Middlebury College and the University of Vermont in Burlington.
In New Hampshire, a weekend getaway for art lovers might begin at the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College in Hanover, which has a deep collection of Native American art. Then head down to Manchester to the Currier Museum of Art, which has a big show up through Jan. 15, “Backstage Pass: Rock & Roll Photography.’’ Two smaller museums also deserve a visit: The upstart Portsmouth Museum of Art, which spotlights 21st century work, and the Museum of Art at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, which has Japanese-themed shows up through Dec. 12.
It turns out it’s hard to get around parts of New England without stumbling across a museum along the way. It only makes the trails happier.