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Williams College Museum of Art

Nestled between oaks, maples and pines is a cultural treasure in an unexpected locale. The Williams College Museum of Art hosts some of the country's most prominent art exhibits, making for a surprising find in rural Williamstown. This quiet residential community sits near the Vermont and New York borders, and offers more than first impressions might imply.

The museum was founded in 1926 and has since more than doubled its size. Its works are still housed in the traditional red brick buildings that one might expect on a New England college campus, but its entrance belies something quite different that awaits within. A striking public art installation titled Eyes (nine elements), by Louise Bourgeois, dominates the surrounding landscape. The piece consists of huge metal eyes buried beneath or placed on top of undulating artificial hills that have been created in the entrance greens. The work was commissioned for the museum's 75th anniversary, and is an undeniable sign of its contemporary slant.

Lovers of art from times past will not be disappointed, as the museum's holdings span much farther than recent years. Four permanent collections that represent nearly all eras and regions grace its galleries.

The Ancient and World Cultures collection consists of approximately 700 works, a large portion of which is South Asian. Rajput and Mughal paintings from the 17th to 19th centuries are the highlights of the collection, and rank as the most prized among college museums.

The American Collection represents nearly half of the permanent collection. The collection spans from 18th-century to early modern art, and includes works by names such as Thomas Eakins, William Harnett, Hans Hofmann, Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, Georgia O'Keeffe and Kay Sage Tanguy. The American Collection is also home to approximately 400 works by brothers Maurice and Charles Prendergast. It is the largest of its kind in the world, and includes watercolors, oils and sketchbooks by Maurice and frames created by Charles.

The Modern and Contemporary collection constitutes the most significant 20th-century group of art in the area. The collection stars many of the American greats, including Willem de Kooning, Sol LeWitt, Robert Rauschenberg, Ad Reinhardt, Faith Ringgold, Cindy Sherman, Kiki Smith and Andy Warhol. To observe student art - the most contemporary of the contemporary - visit the McNicol Gallery. This 155-square-foot space serves as a support for courses of all kinds, including studio art, political science and environmental studies.

The European and Medieval collection is the smallest of the four, but is no less outstanding. Its strengths are in medieval devotional art, Spanish and Northern Baroque painting, and graphic arts from Dürer to Picasso.

Winter and spring exhibits add to the excellence of the museum's fine collections. Patternings: Ed Epping and Barbara Takenaga is on display Oct. 28 - Jan. 7. Carrie Mae Weems: The Hampton Project is on display Jan. 3 - April 29. In the National Character is on display Jan. 27 - Aug. 12. Andy Warhol's Early Years: Works from the Collection of the Williams College Museum of Art, on display Feb. 10 - June 10, serves as the grand finale to the season.

As one might expect, the museum serves as an excellent resource to Williams College students. Among its educational amenities are the Prendergast Archive and Study Center and the Rose Study Gallery.

The nearby Chapin Library hosts special exhibitions of rare books, manuscripts and other materials. Winter's treat is The Haystack's Soil, on display through January.

Admission to the Williams College Museum of Art is free. For more information, visit www.wcma.org or call 413-597-2429.