Art, they say, is a personal matter. And what's "High Art" to one person could, of course, be "junk" to another. But what about "artsy" towns? Here are my favorite ones in America. What are yours...?
#10: STOCKBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS - Here, in a picturesque little village in the Berkshires, lies the shrine to a pure-American form of artistry. Stockbridge was the longtime home of America's greatest illustrator, Norman Rockwell, and the museum honoring him - which still holds many of his greatest works - is here. This was the artist who, perhaps more than any other, captured the American Spirit. And this is a town that captures the spirit of the American artist, with cultural amenities such as the Tanglewood Music Festival, the magnificent gardens and country estate called Naumkeag, the Berkshire Theatre Group, and the Stockbridge Summer Crafts & Art Show. All set amidst a classic Currier & Ives backdrop.
#9: SAG HARBOR, NEW YORK - In this 200-year-old fishing village, the way it is, is the way it was. Not much has changed from Sag Harbor's days as an early whaling port. Everybody still knows everybody else here by first name. The streets are filled with inviting little shops and galleries, and art shows are no longer just a summertime thing here. We're not just talking about the visual arts, either; excellent musical and dance performances are also regular events here, thanks to organizations like the Sag Harbor Fine Arts Center. And the Bay Street Theatre stages excellent productions. If you're an artist, inspiration is everywhere...from the crisp salt air to the scenic little coves to the creaky old fishing boats.
#8: MANITOU SPRINGS, COLORADO - The town of Manitou Springs, sitting in the shadow of 14,110-foot Pike's Peak, appears to have been dropped from the sky, in hundreds of disjointed and haphazard - and very colorful - pieces. Here, tiny little shops and galleries with very funky exteriors and very funky names hang on for dear life to steep little hillsides and cliffs. And, happily juxtaposed among them are at least an equal number of working studios; the town has more than 20. There are chamber music festivals and Art Walks here, along with plenty of public works right out on the street. And there are noted local artists such as Michael Baum, whose whimsical, vibrant prints of contemporary (or 50's) Southwestern life seem to literally jump off the canvas!
#7: MADRID, NEW MEXICO - You've got to be a bit "artsy" to live in a place like Madrid (emphasis on the "Ma"). After all, it's a tiny town of some 300 mostly-artistic souls who left Boston - or Pittsburgh, or Detroit - thirty years ago for a "two-week vacation," and just never went back. Now they're creating imaginative shapes, forms, and paintings. Hidden behind a bend in the mountainous "Turquoise Trail" between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, Madrid is a colorful, ramshackle collection of old wooden houses and galleries and studios, held together by a wood-plank sidewalk. And some wonderful art is being produced here...by some wonderfully-eccentric characters. There are over 40 shops, galleries, and working artists' studios, along with a few restaurants and a genuine Old-Time ice cream parlor. #6: CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA, CALIFORNIA - Carmel is a work of art in itself...a pastel seaside village filled with Old Spanish buildings of stucco, with lush greenery, Pacific fog, cars that cost more than most peoples' houses, and trendy cafes and galleries where the rich-and-famous barely even evoke notice. This little town has four performing arts facilities - the Golden Bough Playhouse, Circle Theatre, the outdoor Forest Theater, and the 700-seat Sunset Center, which attracts world-famous performers. Carmel's roots are artistic; it was actually started as a "bohemian" art colony. And, with more than 80 galleries still listed here, it's, more than ever, a place to find great treasures, and to enjoy great events.
#5: DELRAY BEACH, FLORIDA - Twenty years ago, Atlantic Avenue, Delray's main street, was lined with boarded-up storefronts. Today it's the heart of one of the coolest - and artsiest - downtowns in America, a 24/7 place filled with galleries, clubs, cool restaurants, and vibrant street life. The Arts Garage is a unique venue serving up all types of experimental musical forms. Artists' Alley is a section of downtown that's been transformed from old industrial warehouses into innovative galleries and workshops, often offering wine and cheese on Thursday night "art walks." The Delray Beach Center for the Arts at Old School Square - the town's original 100-year-old high school - has very cool spaces for the performance and visual arts. And Delray Square Arts is a new facility that hosts performing artists of all stripes.
#4: GATLINBURG, TENNESSEE - Gatlinburg? Home to more "Elvis" wedding chapels than anywhere but Las Vegas? Well...yes! Behind the bustling, neon, Smoky Mountain village façade of attractions and shops and, yes, Elvis chapels, lies a cherished artistic heart that's been beating proudly for three centuries. In fact, just outside of town lie the studios and workshops of North America's largest independent arts community. The Tennessee Heritage Arts & Crafts Trail is an eight-mile strip through mountains and forests, past real country chapels, and lined with people who are whittling, painting, sewing, casting, weaving, silver-smithing and carving, creating original collectibles such as candles, baskets, quilts, brooms, pottery, jewelry, dolls, ceramics, scrimshaw, leather, stained glass, photography, oils and watercolors. And, in many cases, doing it in the same way - and with the same tools - as their ancestors.
#3: CODY, WYOMING - If you're an artist, it's not hard to be inspired by Cody. For one thing, it's home to the renowned Buffalo Bill Center of the West. For another, it's surrounded by the Rocky Mountains, the majestic wildlife, and clean, still air that projects and diffuses an extraordinary natural light. And, for a third, it's got an involved citizenry, a local art league, and an arts council that help in attracting excellent artists and craftspeople. Cody's annual celebration of the arts is a community-wide festival called the Rendezvous Royale. It's highlighted by the Buffalo Bill Art Show & Sale, in conjunction with the Cody High Style and the Buffalo Bill Center of the West Patron's Ball. And, as you might expect, there are a number of fine Western Art galleries here.
#2: FREDERICKSBURG, TEXAS - A 175-year-old Bavarian village stuffed into the rolling ridges of the Texas Hill Country is unusual enough. But when the food, architecture, gemutlichkeit, and artistic bent of that village is "Old Country," too...well, that's pretty cool. Fredericksburg was settled by German immigrants in the mid-1800's, among them classically-trained Dresden artists Friedrich Richard Petri and Hermann Lungkwitz. And this pretty town still cherishes that artistic heritage today. Here you'll find noted galleries such as Whistle Pik and Dan Pfeiffer; innovative working artists such as Johann Eyfells, who creates stunning contemporary sculptures; and active organizations such as the Fredericksburg Art Guild and the Fredericksburg Art School.
And now, my No. 1 pick for "The Artsiest Town In America!"...
#1: TAOS, NEW MEXICO - Taos put the "Southwestern" " in "Southwestern Art." A century ago, one of the greatest collections of artists ever living in one place found its way to this 300-year-old village in the southern Rockies, drawn by the incredible natural light, the majestic landscapes, and the spirituality of Taos Mountain, looming above both the town and the Taos Pueblo. One of the movers and shakers of this movement was an artist named Ralph Meyers, a gifted painter who used to love camping out on the Indian pueblo, and holding court on his white horse in Taos Plaza. Today, Ralph Meyers' paintings are very hard to find...and very sought-after. His son, Ouray Meyers, carries on the family artistic tradition from his two galleries here. Ouray Meyers has wonderful memories of all the great Southwestern artists as he was growing up here...people like Joseph Sharp, Buck Dunton, Nicolai Fechin, Ansel Adams, and Georgia O'Keefe. And he's been joined in Taos by a fascinating mix of traditional Southwestern artists, and a new generation that's bringing contemporary strokes to Old West painting. And on the tribal lands of the 1,000-year-old Taos Pueblo, you can find excellent jewelry, beadwork, carvings, pottery, and weavings, still done in the traditional methods.
Well, how do you feel about my list? Any towns you think shouldn't be there? Any other towns you think should? This is your column...so let's hear your thoughts!