Crystal Visions ~ The Art of Mindy Lam at Berkshire Botanical Garden

As galleries slowly reopen, my list of hopeful weekend engagements continues to grow. It’s one I was worried would start late due to my ongoing injury recovery, but I was able to begin the return to culture this weekend with a show after my own heart: Flights of Fancy: The Botanical and Bejeweled Universe of Mindy Lam.

On display in The Anna and Frederick Henry Leonhardt Galleries at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in West Stockbridge, Mass., the exhibit is an intersection of several different things I already love: modern art, vintage pieces, fantastic elements, haute-couture jewelry… all hosted in the rooms of a slightly ominous garden house constructed in the 1700s.

Lam works with crystals and semi-precious stones, repurposed, vintage costume jewelry, and metal wire — including weaving metal lace out of gold, copper, and steel. Her art is inspired by and reflective of nature, and has been displayed within the clapboard walls of the Leonhardt on moss beds, willow branches, and squares of unbleached linen.

Separated into three rooms, the exhibit includes a selection from Lam’s Homme Couture brooch collection; a “man-made ornamental garden” of twigs and brambles adorned with pins, necklaces, and earrings; and a curated menagerie of pieces created for once-in-a-lifetime events, featuring Lam’s signature metal lace gown: “a wearable sculpture originating with a single, delicate thread of wire,” as described on the BBG website.

The real piece de resistance for me, however, is a cool-metal crown in a mirrored bell jar that appears to be telling an entire tale in-the-round.

Lam is also a decidedly philanthropic artist, working with charities large and small including the American Heart Association, American Theatre Wing, and St. Jude’s Research Hospital. She has extended sales on her website to support BBG’s education and horticulture programs throughout Flights of Fancy’s run, until June 6, 2021.

All photos (c) jcs 2021 ~ view the full set here

Small Kitchen Cookbook Page 7: Crabmeat Heaven

Slowly but surely, I’m working my way through 1964’s The Small Kitchen Cookbook, attempting each recipe in no particular order to see what frugal fixins from the sixties still hold up.

This week, I whipped up Crabmeat Heaven, an appetizer from page 7 of the hors d’oeuvres section that is simple, tasty, and keeps well for a day or two in the fridge.

Essentially, we’re not talking about more than an open-faced crab salad sandwich here, but that’s not the kind of lunch that always immediately comes to mind — especially in a small kitchen.

It starts with dicing some onions and celery, adding lemon juice and mayo to the crab and veggies, and toasting some bread slices. All very straightforward.

While the bread is toasting, the final two ingredients (which are also page-by-page favorites in this book) are added: white pepper and parsley.

Plating is also easy enough, simply spooning the mixture over toast, which can be quartered into smaller bites if serving a crowd.

The yield was about 4-6 servings and it didn’t last through the week, so overall I’d say this is one of the more successful Small Kitchen Cookbook results I’ve had.

Rating: four out of five jaunty cherries.

A History of Halloween Heritage in the Berkshires

Blogtoberfest Guest Post #4, by Joe Durwin

Living in the Berkshires, October is always one of the most vivid months to me.  The tenth month of the year in these hills is a boisterous swirl of foliage, harvest festivals, favorite foods, costume parties, and ghost stories.

October is a time of such resplendent colors that Herman Melville named one of our most prominent mountains for it, on account of its striking appearance at this time of year. Even earlier, October of 1844 world was the chosen time for the world to end, according to Pittsfield native and Adventist religion founder William Miller.

Halloween came later.  This pagan-rooted metaphysical holiday, dubbed “Halloween” in the 16th century, saw a slow and awkward emergence in the western world, and did not truly begin the move toward its current hold on the popular imagination of America until the late 19th century.

The evolution of Halloween traditions in the Berkshires was not unlike that of other parts of the country, though perhaps at times more enthusiastic in its embrace of these largely Irish-imported festivities.  In the late 19th century, revelry locally was mostly confined to various privately-organized parties and costume dances, both in homes and in the larger halls.  Performing orchestras, costumes, and parlor games were all common traditions of these events, which were largely attended by adults.

“Some of the ladies were gowned in grotesque and amusing costumes,” the North Adams Transcript said of the bash thrown by the Ladies Auxiliary of the Caledonia Club in 1899, while some 40 couples participated in a cake walk at the one thrown by the Ladies Catholic Benevolent Association, just two of a dozen Halloween parties across North Adams that year.  At an 1898 party in Pittsfield, costumed ghouls are said to have reveled in a game of “Button, button, who’s going to to be the Sheriff?” – which I can only imagine is some variation of the more well known vintage parlor game “Button, Button, who’s got the button?”

Williams College seniors early on enjoyed a holiday practice of going about the darkened streets shouting “Lights off!” while making as great a racket as possible, and according to one commentator townsfolk were much relieved when the young men finally transitioned to the less obstreperous tradition of taking in a Halloween supper together.

The first real city-sponsored public celebration of Halloween came in Pittsfield 90 years ago, in 1922.  The mass festivity was launched “to keep the youth from tearing up the town” and to “forget such vexations as the scarcity of coal, high taxes, and the tariff,” according to George Williston’s History of Pittsfield, 1916-1955.  More than 50,000 people turned up that night to watch a parade that included 70 floats proceeding down Wahconah Street from Park to Charles St.

Regarding the youth issue, this seems to be a general concern across the country by the 1920s and 30s, with pranks and vandalism issues growing to new and shocking levels.  Hurling of cabbages at houses was popular for decades in these parts, though occasionally boys of a more malicious bent would turn to tossing stones instead. Issues of this kind ultimately coalesced and helped lead to a resurgence of the old European practice of ‘guising,’ what we now know as “Trick or Treat.”  More and more youth-oriented events emerged over time, with churches and organizations like the Boy Scouts stepping in to offer more condoned activities over the following years, such as this notice for two Pittsfield youth parties at First Congregational Church in 1942.

It was in the mid 1940s to 1950s that Halloween in Pittsfield and surrounding areas reached truly epic proportions.  In 1944, the city’s Parks Department launched its modern parade, in which children and adults marched around the Common with an estimated 1500 people in attendance.  Costumed socials were no longer the province of adults only, and while 75 attended a grown up bash by the Daughters of Isabella that year, Superintendent James Keegan tallied 600 kids at a Tuesday night party at the Boys Club.

It was not until the following Halloween, in the jubilant months following the end of World War II, that this event really reached its stride.

20,000 revelers turned out in downtown as parade Marshal George Galt lead a parade of two thousand costumed marchers down North Street from Park Square to Madison Avenue.  Single crowds of hundreds flocked to various parties and movies following, 900 packed into the Boys Club alone.

“Downtown Halloween hilarity captivated Pittsfield last night as it had not done since the latest attempt at anything like a community-wide organized program many years ago,” said the Berkshire Evening Eagle.

The festivities continued to grow, and other towns were not far behind as the county grew and prospered in the post war boom.  Dalton had what it called its “biggest Halloween celebration in history” up to that time in 1946, and Great Barrington launched a parade in 1948, which by its second year garnered a crowd of some 5000 spectators.  Such sanctioned events never did away with more illicit hijinks completely; a notation from 1947 relays that state police responded to 40 calls from persons disturbed by pranks on All Hallows Eve.

1954 GE Float flying saucer

It was the G.E. floats of the 1950s, though, that made a more powerfully lasting impression on the Halloween recollections of Pittsfield.  In 1950, employees of the Pittsfield manufacturer banded together to create Pitt the Dragon.  400 workers put together a beast which stood sixteen feet high and 149 feet long, with 24 foot flapping wings, and a head that turned and snorted smoke.  Three people were required to operate the monster from inside.  At least 17,000 onlookers awed at the fearsome industrial dragon, which was later featured along with some of the company’s other Halloween marvels, such as a giant witch and a popcorn shooting spaceship, in the October 1954 issue of Popular Mechanics.

Halloweens varied throughout the decade, though, from a freezing cold 1951 that saw parade crowds down to 7,500 (but apparently did nothing to cut down on pranks, which cost the city of Pittsfield about $770 that year)  to up to 25,000 gathered in 1956 to watch a  1,000 paraders and 13 floats, including a G.E.’s contribution that year of a giant trick or treat jack-in-the-box.

“Gory, macabre and eerie” was the verdict of 1960’s prize-winning float, a deathly pirate ship put forth by Morewood School.  Imagery became more ghoulish with the visual inspirations of an ever growing canon of films and television, and floats more nuanced than massive.  The parade was running nearly an hour in length by 1963, and 55 youths won $2 gift certificates to Zayre’s dressed as such things as as brides and grooms, decks of cards, six-packs of beer, skeletons,  clowns peddling unicycles, George Washington and John F. Kennedy.

1970 was another great year for the parade, with 20,000 residents still braving the chilly sidewalks to admire the Berkshire Eagle‘s 33 foot skeleton and the Girl Scouts’ winning “Halloween Around the World” float. With the ever prevalent rise in electronic and other diversions over the years, though, parade attendance in Pittsfield was back down to closer to 12,000 by late 70s, even before the city’s population was fully halved by the incremental departure of G.E. over the following years.  Reducing crowds at things like the parade was not only an index of population and interest, but of proliferating types of activities, as trick or treat became more universal and thrilling “haunted houses” began to crop up.  The Junior League organized one acclaimed early scare tour in 1975, and North Adams orchestrated its first haunting attraction the following year.

That loss of population, combined with continuous reductions in Parks Department funding that began even well before the days of economic declines, had some effect of winnowing enthusiasm for the mass Halloween celebrations in Pittsfield.  Appetite for late October spookiness hardly dwindled, though and in fact have seen continuous increased spending year after year, regardless of the national economic climate. But in more recent years the revelry has seemed to become more segregated, with very different sets of activities enjoyed by youth than the ones designated for those over 21.

In just the last few years, however, such “old fashioned” community gatherings are seemingly making a come back.  The final 3rd Thursday fair of the year is Halloween themed, and downtown merchants have instituted their own pre-trick-or-treat days before the real thing.Thinly stretched municipal employees and valiant volunteers continue to work hard to create a memorable Halloween parade each year, and attendance at its new location on Tyler Street rose this year to approximately 9500, from about 7500 last year.

The season seems to grow earlier each year, too, with the proliferation of public and private events, ever more carefully staggered so as to encourage multiple masquerade excursions, rather than overly split a market share of patrons that is half that enjoyed by attractions of our parents and grandparents.  Local observance in recent years of the growing international craze that is World Zombie Day has also helped add to this experience of Hallowe’en as an amorphous holiday season.

With polled participation in All Hallows Eve at an all time high in America this year at 70% up from 68.1% last year, 170 million U.S. residents will spend an estimated $8 billion (up from around 7 last year) on costumes, candy, decorations, foods, and other seasonal touches.  This interest now maintains two year round costume stores in this city (down from none for a couple years prior) in addition to the glut of pop up shopping and big box merchandise space occurring each fall.

With it come all sorts of tertiary correlates, such as the unprecedented wave of interest in  hauntings and spooky folklore seen in local media this October, or the proliferation of para-tourism as packed tours file through area venues in greater numbers than ever in search of authentic otherworldliness.

I say, “Bring it on!” … All too often, outsiders have a skewed view of this region as a summer bastion.  For my money, though, Fall is what the Berkshires do best.

282250_10151120647626374_596750537_n.jpg Joe Durwin is a local writer, folklorist and historian; his column These Mysterious Hills has run on a semi-regular basis in The Advocate and since 2004, and his work on lore and mysteries of the region has been featured in Fate Magazine, Haunted Times, William Shatner’s “Weird or What” for History Canada, MSG Films’ “Bennington Triangle,” and the  PBS documentary “Things That Go Bump in the Night.”

From the Archives: Bookmarks

Note: This post originally appeared on The Jump at its former address in October, 2007. I was just reading Reflections at Walden last night, though, and it holds strong as a great October Book Books

I’ve been wanting to write more about the books I read and collect for a while now. My desk shelf is crammed with various theory books, organization manuals, vintage finds, and schwag — books that have been sent to me as part of my job — waiting to be blogged while the massive bookshelves in the home office creak in protest, straining under the weight of my Mighty Tomes.

While I thought about making a recurring post category, like Bookmark Mondays, I have another idea brewing for Thursdays that I think I’ll pursue first. Instead, I’ve created a new category, Bookmarks, so I can share some of the cool things I see and read with my loyal readers.

All six of you. Hi Mom.

I’ll start with one of my new treasures, snagged at the Whately Antiquarian Book Center in Franklin County, Massachusetts this weekend.

We saw this massive, brick building rising from the plains of rural Whatley and screeched to a stop, even though we’d been trolling for breakfast for half an hour.

My hunger resulted in the purchase of not one, but two cookbooks; one I grabbed immediately upon walking in, the other on the way to the register.

The first is The Small Kitchen Cookbook by Nina Mortellito, published in 1964. I was drawn in by the jubilant little cherries on the cover, but after leafing through (and noticing the original price on the book was $4.95 – I paid $11.75. ‘the hell?), I realized that this is one handy little guide to Improvisational Cuisine.

“A small kitchen need not be a deterrent to preparing meals in the grand manner,” assures the introduction, which is followed quickly by the reminder that “small kitchens and small budgets usually go hand in hand.” How does Mortellito know I didn’t choose a small kitchen because I like to feel cozy whilst I cook? Eh, who am I kidding.

The book begins with a chapter called Tips for Cramped Quarters, and there’s nothing listed that I wouldn’t fully expect to read in Real Simple. They’re useful tips with a little bit of quirk; I love, for instance, that the author suggests a pegboard for kitchen accessories and is sure to add that “it looks quite decorative.”

Mortellito was also an environmentalist before her time — she recommends crushing cereal boxes before throwing them in the garbage — and apparently a boozehound: “Serve inexpensive wine, and try buying it in gallons,” she says (Lovely, reuseable decanters mask the quantity, I gathered).

Finally, the recipes are great for entertaining or inventing a meal when the only things left in the fridge are pre-wrapped slices of American Cheese and A-1 Steak Sauce. This is a common occurrence in my small-yet-cozy kitschy kitchen.

There are recipes for everything from potato salad to fritto misto, using relatively accessible ingredients. Want some spaghetti and out of sauce? All you need is some grated cheese, a few bits of bacon and a couple of eggs. Whip. Serve.

I’ll leave you with one of the cooler cocktail party recipes as a treat:

Fast Cocoa Souffle

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons cocoa

5 egg whites

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 pint heavy cream

Sift together sugar and cocoa, beat 3 egg whites until stiff, add sugar mixture, beating constantly. Add vanilla and salt, beat until mixture points and peaks; Butter inside of 1 1/2 quart souffle dish, pour souffle into dish  and place in a pan of warm water. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Whip heavy cream serve immediately with souffle.


Published: Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Any Given Thursday

The other day, my friend Erica called me and, in a very serious tone, asked ‘Wanna go to the Gavel.’

Yes! was my immediate answer– she’d trumpeted the awesomeness of this outing to me a few times in the past, but I’d never gotten a chance to go. Now was my moment.

The Golden Gavel is an auction house in Connecticut that holds a live auction every Thursday night, from 7 p.m. until everything in the place is gone. The wares range from sets of drinking glasses to full bedroom sets, with everything — and I mean everything — in between. The goods come from estates and businesses unloading things, so on any given Thursday, there could be furniture, electronics, clothes, ephemera, or, as there was when I went, a box of dead butterflies and a full Ronald McDonald clown suit. Both of which, might I add, sold.

Erica, her friend Liz and I headed down to the auction after work, and upon arriving, registered and were given bidding numbers. I was 158. We then made a quick stop at the snack bar, a makeshift diner staffed by two Flo n’ Alice lookalikes. Erica had a baked potato and a piece of apple crisp; I had a good old-fashioned hot dog. They buttered and grilled the bun. Color me impressed.


After taking our seats, the first of three parts of the auction began. One of three auctioneers took the stage — I gathered his name was Pat — and started the bidding as what seemed like a massive staff grabbed items from tables and walls and brought them to the front. We watched the process both on the stage and via one of a row of closed-circuit televisions that zoomed in on each item: a lamp, a neon sign, an ottoman, some Ikea shelving, a Coca-cola sign, a couch, one of seven TVs, mirrors, computer hard drives, WWII memorabilia. The breadth was really amazing, but what was more amazing were the prices some of these finds were going for. I watched in awe as a like-new, teak, four-piece, ceiling-to-floor entertainment center with glass doors went to the highest bidder for $150.

golden gavel

Pat led the auction until the bulk of the merchandise had sold. Then, he turned the gavel over to another auctioneer, Ralph, who kicked things into high gear with that classic ‘auctioneer babble’ style — “Five, five and ten, ten, ten hubbada ten, fifteen? huddaba hubbadahubbada SOLD to the lady in black for $20.”

Ralph also led the $10 round, which starts the bidding at $10 for every item. Some still go for more, and some less. The $10 round then switched to the $5 round, and finally a third auctioneer, Ron, led ‘the walk-around,’ during which you can buy a whole table of sundries for $2, and take what you want.

The Golden Gavel does routinely sell high-end items that sometimes go for as much as $10,000, and I heard a few things go for $2,000-plus the other night. But, it’s also easy to get a pair of never-worn, $75 shoes for five bucks, LIKE I DID! Woo! They were in fact the first item I tentatively raised my laminated number for, after it seemed clear that no one else in the room wore a seven-and-a-half.

I also scored these fantastic wood carvings that are perfect in The Orange Livingroom:

wood carvings

and this cool tureen. I needed a serving dish with a cover on it:


Erica got a Bulova clock; neither of us spent more than $40 on the evening, including dinner. And even if I hadn’t bought anything, I think the people-watching alone would have made the trip worthwhile. Auctions are definitely a cross-section of humanity.

The verdict? I’m sold. And, I think I want to be an auctioneer when I grow up.

Published: Sunday, 17 August 2008