Art in the Orchard Covid Edition



Park Hill Orchard

82 Park Hill Road, Easthampton, MA

Through November 28, 2021.

[Click on images for larger view]


It’s no secret that art and the Covid crisis have been troubled partners. On one hand, the lockdown gave artists more studio time to exercise their creative impulses. On the other, galleries and museums locked their doors and, even when they reopened, hours were reduced and there was fierce competition to secure exhibition space.


In the best of times, Art in the Orchard is a treat. This year it’s an especially sweet one, even though many of the artists on display quite naturally turned to the somber topic of reflecting upon Covid and its social and personal impact. It is, though, a comfortable event for the public as the artwork is spread in fields along either side of the road from the farm stand. If you want to buy some apples, cider, pie, or other goodies there is an outdoor setup where you can do so.


Here is a sampler of art that caught my eye:




When you park your car, you will see a wooden portal that frames a pumpkin patch with orchards behind them and Mt. Tom looming in the distance. Call it a metaphor for an Alice in Wonderland through-the-looking glass experience. On the other side of the road, a metallic bear greets you. If those aren’t enticing come-ons, you can’t be pleased so turn around and go home!




Michael Tillyer is the executive director of the New England Visionary Artist Museum in Northampton and a mainstay at Art in the Orchard. His whimsical sculptures are a delight and I’ve yet to encounter someone who looks at one of his carved dogs and doesn’t have an “Awwww!” moment.




Greenfield, MA artist Ted Hinman spent time reflecting upon our need to be better caretakers of the environment. On the surface, his “Garden of Delight” is a lot of fun and akin to rooting around in a toybox of discarded objects. Notice how he looked at a castoff baseball mitt and imagined a bee. The installation is loaded with eye candy, but he has his eye on bigger things, the aforementioned stewardship of the natural realm.




Brian McQuillen is another repeat artist. His “Vida” is its own statement. McQuillen works with “junk” metal and “Vida” is at once enticing and perplexing. There is the joy of the flute, but also the distress of viewing a figure that is the exoskeleton of something robotic yet vaguely human. Mixed message? I think that’s the point!




Easthampton’s Chris Woodman has fashioned a cyclopic eye for “Rise and Shine.” Try not to gaze into the giant eye that tops a monopod. Talk about grabbing your attention!




Florence, MA-based Dave Rothstein uses to wire and hay for “Hoo Goes There.” Spend some time with it as from a distance it’s not immediately clear that you are looking at nesting owls, some of whom are stretching their wings. Its ephemerality is the ultimate expression of organic art.


Covid has the sad distinction of being the deadliest pandemic in American history. Prior to that, it was the Spanish flu outbreak that took 675,00 American lives in 1919-20. It came on the heels of an even grimmer event: World War One. More than 20,000,000 died in the war (116,000 of whom were Americans). You might know Dr. John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Field,” which opens with the memorable lines: “In Flanders field the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row….” It commemorates the blood-soaked spot in Belgium where a particularly gruesome campaign took place. 




Eileen Travis of Poughkeepsie, NY connects the tragic dots between war, the influenza outbreak, and Covid through a simple act that is startingly profound. Travis crocheted a passel of red poppies and strewed them upon the verdant grass of the orchard grounds. Seldom has crochet been so deeply moving.




If you need a pick-me-up after that, wander over to “Geranium,” a cluster of pink flowers sewn from nylon flag material. It is the work of Grafton, MA artist Diana Shobrys. The actual grouping is large, but this closeup shows the richness of the color and the level of detail that went into each flower.


Believe me when I say that what I have displayed is but a small fraction of you will see, think, and imagine. And buy some apples!


Rob Weir


Eight Days a Week: The Beatles, Hope, and Chaos



Directed by Ron Howard

Apple Corporation/Hulu, 97 minutes, PG.





Like many people my age, The Beatles rocked my world. I was too young for Elvis and the pop music of the early ‘60s was so naff that I wasn’t sure what my pre-teen self was seeing when The Beatles first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. It didn’t take long to fathom that music was undergoing a seismic shift. Whatever one thinks now, it’s hard to exaggerate how profoundly The Beatles altered the musical landscape.


The documentary Eight Days a Week first appeared in 2016. It won a Grammy for Best Music Film and a few Emmy Awards (sound editing, sound mixing), but didn’t have a broad theatrical run in North America due to the decline of independent cinemas and the generic preferences of mall theaters. If you’ve not seen Eight Days a Week, you should. That’s especially the case if you’ve seen either A Hard Day’s Night or Help. Both of those were directed by Richard Lester, who reminds us that though the lads had a blast making the films, it didn’t take a creative genius to imagine the mayhem depicted in them.


Eight Days a Week mostly covers the years 1962-66, when The Beatles were at their peak popularity, dominated the pop charts, and toured constantly. You will notice it’s rated PG. The Beatles were a breath of fresh air in the United States. The arrived in 1964, just 11 weeks after President Kennedy’s assassination. Many elders were horrified, but their mop top haircuts, Edwardian suits, goofy charm, and earworm music exuded innocence and restoration for millions of young people. Director Ron Howard’s film captures this, along with what might be called safety valve hysteria, a combination mob scene and screamfest. Ringo recalls that the 1966 Shea Stadium show was so loud and the sound production so primitive–amps were funneled through the stadium’s PA system—that he couldn’t hear a thing and needed visual cues from his bandmates to figure out the beat.


Luckily for us that Giles Martin–son of The Beatles’ late producer George Martin–remastered the soundtrack. Also lucky for us, Howard worked with Apple. Ever notice how many music documentaries have short bursts of the original songs that are often sung by someone else? That’s because securing rights without paying a king’s ransom in royalties must fall within strict fair use standards. Howard had no such restraints. He also got permission to mine archival material from Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, plus Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, the widows of John Lennon and George Harrison. This makes Howard’s film a musical treat and opens windows for revelations.


He stumbles on the revelations; it’s hard to say anything new about a band so well covered. We know, for instance, that The Beatles didn’t come from “nowhere;” three of them had been playing since they were teens. We know about their Berlin gigs and that Ringo replaced Pete Best as drummer and became a stabilizing force. We’ve also heard them credit Brian Epstein with remaking their image. We even know about the mania that followed the band wherever they went. Seeing it on film, though–carefully curated and edited by Paul Crowder–certainly makes one wonder how the four tolerated the craziness.


The answer is that The Beatles were young. Eight Days a Week is also a boys-to-men film. Being mobbed by teenaged (or not!) groping girls when you’re 21 is one thing; it wears thin when you hit the mid-20s. Howard suggests that The Beatles were loved to death. Their August 29, 1966, Candlestick Park show is often cited as their last concert. That’s not quite true; Howard’s film ends with a coda of their January 29, 1969, rooftop concert atop Apple Corps–literally the last time The Beatles played live. After Candlestick, though, they stopped touring. Paul recalled they were so weary by 1966, that they went into the studio, chose not to be The Beatles, and were reborn as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Clubs Band.


Like most documentaries, this one has talking heads. The archival interviews and commentary stand out more, though Whoopi Goldberg speaks very eloquently of how the band represented a giddy moment of color-blind hope that she cherishes to this day. Some of the others–Eddie Izzard, Elvis Costello, touring manager Neil Aspinall–say about what you’d expect, and I’m not sure why gadfly Malcolm Gladwell was interviewed. Mostly, the film moves at a fast clip in keeping with how the ambiguously labeled “Sixties” unfolded. I often used images and clips of the 1962 and 1967 Beatles to drive home to students the speed of social change during the decade. Indeed, it wasn’t just The Beatles who were pushed to the edge by that surging surf. See Eight Days a Week–available on DVD or streaming–and realize what I mean, as you sing along to some of the most infectious songs ever recorded.


Rob Weir


Eight Perfect Murders: Breezy Read, Flawed Whodunit



By Peter Swanson

William Morrow, 274 pages.




The premise of Peter Swanson’s mystery is emblazoned on its cover: “How do you get away with murder? Make it look impossible.” Of course, that’s often the case for murder mysteries, which is why we need a Holmes, a Poirot, or a Marple to unravel how the unlikely is exactly what happened.


Malcolm Kershaw loves books like that. He’s been a disappointment to many–a 1999 college grad who never grew up. He loved lurid mystery novels as a kid, started collecting them then, and began working in bookshops as soon as he graduated from college. His one major accomplishment was that he bought the shop in which the previous proprietor created a job for him, Old Devils Bookstore on Boston’s Beacon Hill, though Malcolm hasn’t exactly transformed it into a howling success. Out of the blue, FBI Special Agent Gwen Mulvey pops into the store to ask for his help. She ran across a blog he wrote for the store years earlier in which he wrote about eight books with “perfect murders.” His selections were idiosyncratic and Mulvey believes that a serial killer has been using it a blueprint. Malcolm protests he only wrote blog posts to drum up business for the previous owner, but Mulvey seems desperate.


Hers is the ultimate fishing expedition, but Malcolm hasn’t had much of a life since his drug-addled wife died in a car crash five years earlier; his two employees are younger, and the store cat, Nero, is his closest companion. Most nights, Malcolm has a few drinks and heads home to his attic apartment, which is crammed with old mysteries. So, needless to say, he didn’t play hard-to-get when Mulvey asked for his help. The more we learn about Malcolm, the more he emerges as a sad sack–the kind that would marry a woman he knew to be a free-spirit and addict. Not even his drinking acquaintances qualify as friends; he’s more like wallpaper for the watering holes he frequents. He does get suspicious, though, when some of the victims had tangential ties to Old Devils and begins to suspect that Mulvey has ulterior motives.


Eight Perfect Murders veers in directions that involve the dark Web, exchange murders, a busybody ex-cop, and a few too many coincidences for comfort. It gets weirder still when Mulvey is suspended and the murder cases are handed off to two new agents. As is often the case in mysteries, this one also involves the Pandora’s Box Syndrome; that is, key individuals open doors and investigations that are beyond their capacity to control.   


At this juncture I should say that Eight Perfect Murders is a breezy read, but a flawed whodunit. I soused out the killer long before the short novel concluded and read on merely to see how Swanson dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s. If you are a fan of classic detective fiction, your greatest pleasure will be contemplating the numerous mentioned works and plots within the main novel. By about the two-thirds mark, though, Swanson strains to maintain tension and it becomes more and more obvious who we need to watch and who we can safely ignore. Were it not for an ambiguous ending, I think I would have felt cheated.


You probably don’t need me to tell you that the novel’s title is ironic. Murder is always messy; there’s no such thing as a “perfect” murder, even if the culprit manages to elude arrest. 


Rob Weir