The Hill Institute
"A Private School Serving the Public"
By Ann Shanahan
We moved to Northampton in 1971 and for many of the intervening years have lived in Florence. During all that time, we have been aware of the now 133-year-old Hill Institute but our children did not attend their kindergarten, none of us ever took any of their craft courses (until my husband enrolled the most recent term of “drawing basics” taught by Lindsay Fogg-Willits). Moreover, we had never been to even one of the annual exhibitions that feature the work done in those courses…until very recently.
On the first weekend in June, the Hill Institute held its annual display of art and crafts that students, both adults and young people, have produced this year: Cape Cod baskets, family trees artfully displayed in calligraphy, gorgeous cedar strip canoes, all manner of crocheting, oil paintings, slip-covers for upholstered chairs, hooked rugs and furniture made in classes ranging from beginning to “master furniture,” and every craft you can think of in between.
Hill Institute offers dozens of classes in fall and spring sessions each year. In the fall of 2009, there will be 60 classes, meeting mostly weekday evenings and running anywhere from 7 to 14 weeks for two or three hours at a time. (The 14-week class is the canoe-making one—probably because it takes a good deal longer to make a canoe than a basket!) Fees vary from $120 for canoe-building and $80 for furniture-making to $40 for most adult classes and $35 for most youth classes. To see the full array of courses, visit the Hill Institute Web site.
When Samuel Lapham Hill first came to Florence in 1841, he was already a successful entrepreneur. He organized the Nonotuck Silk Company here, established the Hill Institute and founded the free Florence Kindergarten, which opened its doors in 1876 in the “front room” of Hill’s home at 33 Maple St and continues today.
The Hill Industrial School was established in 1900. According to “Hill Institute,” a booklet published in 2001 on the 125th anniversary of the institute’s founding, early courses were offered in general sewing, dressmaking, millinery and shirtwaist. “Instruction was provided for making such period fashions as ‘plain corset covers’ and ‘elaborate unlined dresses.’ The Domestic Science Department offered instruction in general cookery, invalid cookery and chafing dish, which included such specialties as fricasseed oysters, English monkey, lobster a la poulette and minced veal on toast.”
The only cuisine course offered in the fall schedule is “vegetarian cooking,” which speaks to the change in tastes over time!
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