The story behind the New Salem Museum

The New Salem Academy home economics and dormitory building, which has been transformed into the New Salem Museum and Academy of Fine Art.

The New Salem Academy home economics and dormitory building, which has been transformed into the New Salem Museum and Academy of Fine Art. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO



The New Salem Museum and Academy of Fine Art.

The New Salem Museum and Academy of Fine Art. PHOTO BY NOAH KLAVENS


For the Recorder

Published: 05-19-2024 1:01 PM

Laura Barletta and her husband Vincent’s connection to New Salem began with Vincent’s grandmother Helen Truman, who attended school at New Salem Academy. After the school closed in 1969, the building, which originally housed the home economics classes for the school and served as a dormitory, became a private residence.

When Vincent’s father, also named Vincent, took a fall foliage drive through New Salem one day in the 1980s, he noticed the former New Salem Academy building at 37 South Main St. was for sale. When he came back to the family home in Dedham, he said, “I think I found a project for us!” Laura Barletta recounted.

The family purchased the home and turned it into their vacation property, celebrating holidays and special events there, including weddings.

“We were married in the Congregational Church in 1997 and the wedding reception was at the house,” Laura said. “A couple of years later, my sister-in-law was married in the backyard.”

When her mother-in-law Patricia Barletta decided to sell the house, Laura was saddened about the sale. At the same time, Laura and Vincent, who both enjoy art collecting, had hired Michael Klein to paint an anniversary portrait of them. Klein, noting that they were sad about the sale, suggested purchasing the home and bringing the Barletta art collection to New Salem to display. The Barlettas purchased the home, and in August 2023, opened the New Salem Museum and Academy of Fine Art. The museum is located on 2 acres with a vegetable and rose garden and a pond.

The Barlettas have been collecting art for 20 years. Their collecting began, Laura said, when “we were taking an anniversary trip to New York City and saw a Michael Klein painting in a gallery window and bought it. We started looking for more. We bought what we liked at art galleries and shows.”

Once they knew they would be creating the museum, she said they picked up the pace.

“Most of the collection are painters who are currently painting,” Laura said. “They are technical paintings of portraits, landscapes and still lifes, which are painted in the manor of old European painters. There are no abstracts. These are paintings similar to those you would see at the MFA, but painted by people who are alive.

“I am hoping that the public will have access to paintings [that] are usually in galleries, then purchased for private collections, never to be seen again,” she added.

In the permanent display are paintings by Jordan Sokol, Jeremy Lipking, Colleen Barry and Michael Klein. The collection also includes a painting by John Singer Sargent and Andrew Wyeth. Sculptors in the permanent display include Kate Lehman, Oliver Czarnetta and Daniel Sprick.

One gallery will be used by museum Director Michael Klein to bring in works by some of his favorite artists. The summer rotation will include art from Cesar Santos, Francois Bard and older pieces by Edgar Maxence. The museum will be closed on June 10 to assemble the new rotation and will reopen Friday, July 14.

The museum will also provide a place for artists and students to hone their crafts through workshops and classes. Among the classes being offered is a portrait class from July 22 to June 26, which is currently full, although there is a wait list available.

A group of 13 students from Athol High School came to visit the museum in December with English teacher Beth Gospodarek. The students did writing assignments based on the paintings, Laura said.

The museum is open from Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, and from New Year’s Day through Feb. 15.

The following libraries offer passes to the New Salem Museum: Athol Public Library, New Salem Public Library, Petersham Memorial Library, Phinehas S. Newton Library in Royalston, Leverett Library, Dickinson Memorial Library in Northfield, and M.N. Spear Memorial Library in Shutesbury.

More information about the museum can be found at

Carla Charter is a freelance writer from Phillipston. Her writing focuses on the history of the North Quabbin area. Contact her at