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Secrets of MASS MoCA: If These Buildings Could Talk

What went on in MASS MoCA before it held artwork and performances?  Ever wondered what our Sol LeWitt building functioned as before we were a museum or what Building 5 was used for  before installations such as Katharina Grosse’s One Floor Up More Highly filled it up?

If you’ve ever visited, it’s obvious that MASS MoCA was not the first tenant in these buildings.  It is easy to be reminded of our site’s history with hand-cut stone, covered bridges, and exposed brick creating the backdrop for our artwork.

In the late 1800’s, the textile company Arnold Print Works, which was one of the largest cloth-dying companies of its time, built the brick buildings that our museum calls home today.   After Arnold Print Works moved out in 1942, a company named Sprague Electric occupied the space until 1985.

Here’s what our buildings were originally used for during the Arnold Print Works Era:

Building 3:  No longer exists.  Have you seen our upside down trees? Ever noticed their beautiful brick wall beneath them?  That wall represents where building 3 used to stand.

Building 4:  Our main galleries, which currently include the Workers, Nari Ward, and Memery, are the former steaming and finishing rooms.

Building 5:  Our football field sized gallery was once where cloth was dyed and dried.  When in the museum, if you look halfway up the wall, to the right of the stairs, you can see the remains of what used to be a second floor in the room.  It was ripped out when MASS MoCA was renovating to create the large space for artwork.

Building 5a:  That little room off to the side, presently with Nari Ward’s Mango Tourists, was also used for steaming.

Staircase between Building 5 + 7:  This area was an outdoor space until we decided to use Building 7 for Sol LeWitt.  You may notice that the passageway is the perfect size for a horse and carriage!

Building 7:  Sol LeWitt.  Sol chose this space for its radiant natural light.  When he originally toured the building, we were not using it for artwork, the floors were unsafe, and its main tenants were pigeons. Even so, he knew it had potential.  Before the Wall Drawings, before the pigeons, Building 7 was the Arnold Print Works bleach house.

Building 8:  This summer, the Bureau for Open Culture moved into the space formerly used for padding.

Building 10:  Once used for textile printing, it now houses the MASS MoCA Lobby, Hardware, Club B-10, and Lickity Split.

Building 11:  The Hunter Center for Performing Arts was once the location of the color shop.

By Linnea DiPillo

Posted November 7, 2011 by MASS MoCA
Filed under Architecture, BLOG, Secrets of MASS MoCA
1 Comment »

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One Comment on “Secrets of MASS MoCA: If These Buildings Could Talk”

  1. Kelsey Says:

    An inspiring blog about an inspiring place! The pictures helped me imagine the old spaces while appreciating their transformation. I’d love to see some pictures of the vacant buildings that are still waiting for a second chance at greatness.

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