Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 2, 2017

Lowell in the Winter of 2017

By Shera Cohen

Surely, there are enough sites in the country to venture to in the winter months than Lowell, MA. Yet, I had particular reasons for this visit; 1) I had never been to Lowell, 2) I could “bunk” at a friend’s nearby condo, 3) I was heartily invited by Merrimack Repertory Theatre, and 4) now that I’ve taken a surprise liking to National Parks, it was an opportune time to go to Lowell’s Park. As it worked out, I hadn’t realized until arrival that, indeed, Lowell area hosted even more cultural venues to experience. Who knew?

New England Quilt Museum
Housed in what appeared to be a renovated factory building was a world-class exhibition

of quilts of all sizes, shapes, materials, and history. We were free to roam the second floor, and the docent who seemed to magically appear was happy to guide us. At near-closing hour, there was a lot to see when rushed. I would return, for another of their changing exhibits, and to spend time in the large gift shop full of fabric, threads, spools, and other apparatus that I knew nothing about, yet. The Museum boasts the collection of the most historically important and beautifully preserved antique quilts in America.

I discovered that quilt makers and historians eat, sleep, and breath quilts, and have done so for centuries. It was/is a communal activity melding social aspects with culture and an actual purpose/need for products; i.e. bed quilts in New England winters in days of old. The Museum changes its main exhibit nearly every month, and hosts lectures, lunches, discussion groups, and competitions. For information contact

Worcester Museum of Art
I have mentioned this is other articles, and will repeat my thoughts -- a docent or tour guide can make or break a cultural experience. Fortunately, not only did this lovely woman have an exquisite French accent, but she knew her stuff, imparting that knowledge passionately and seriously to her assemblage of visitors. One woman in our group stated, “I’ll never look at art the same way again.” And I thought, “I’ve got to finally sign up for that nearby Art Appreciation course.”

Our guide was particularly proud to tell the story of the John Freake family, who were represented in two paintings, dating back to the 1670’s, which were the first ever painted in the Americas.

I’m not sure why I had the preconceived idea that this museum was petite. I was wrong. Again, I would return, because there wasn’t nearly enough time to see all exhibits. The highlight was “The Remarkable Ed Emberley,” renowned storybook artist. Admittedly, I was not familiar with his talent – an indescribable whimsy appealing to children and to adults.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre
For several years, my Lowell friend had encouraged me to come to Merrimack. She was an avid fan and usher. In looking at flyers from many seasons, Merrimack has mounted an excellent variety of drama and comedy. Kudos to them, that their repertoire included many premiers, and did not rely on old chestnuts.

The venue looks as if it has been a prominent theatre house in its day. Upon entering, I met several of Merrimack’s artistic and administrative staff. All were so gracious and welcoming that you might have thought that I represented the New York Times.

Opening night of “Women in Jeopardy” by Wendy Macleod, just happened to be the first sell out performance of any opening in Merrimack’s history. Bravo to them!

This questionable-murder, mystery, comedy focused on a trio of middle-aged women who were, or so they thought, “in jeopardy.” Ahh, what to do about it? The plot was thin, the actors sharp, the set perfect. The audience spent two hours laughing, came home without cerebral wonderings, and simply enjoyed the evening. That’s good enough for me.

Mill No. 5
I admit my fear walking on a stony parking lot pathway under a highway in near darkness. Then, things got worse -- the dead end. Fortunately, an elevator door squeezed into the side of the building opened, taking us to the third floor. I felt as if this was a speakeasy and/or I was dealing some nefarious product. In any case, some teenage girls entered the elevator as well. For some odd reason, I felt safer.

The smells of incense and various candles through a wide corridor greeted the visitors/customers into this little culture tour of small art studios (some sold desserts, as well). The painters and musicians were young. I felt a bit out of place, as I could easily have been anyone else’s mother or even grandmother. But these “kids” were all gracious with their, “Come on in.” I have no doubt that millennials loved these studios, and loved supporting each other’s talents.

Lowell National Park
Because I have been affiliated with another National Park for the past eight years, a stop at Lowell’s park was a “must” on my list. I already realize that this is just the first of at least two visits for the future.

Sometimes, guests skip the introduction film at “my” park (Springfield Armory National Historic Site). That’s a mistake. Take the 15-minutes or so to get an overview of what you will then see throughout the museum, up close and personal; the textile industry in New England. By the way, this is the best produced Park video that I have ever seen.

What I hadn’t realized was the campus of the Park included three museums/homes, the entire property, and in the summer months, a guided cruise on the adjacent river. The Park is free. So, here’s my pitch. Please take advantage of discovering far more about our country, one-on-one; just you and history.