After Minnie Griswold passed away in 1952, her sons locked up their mother’s house in Pawlet, Vermont and left all her belongings in place, unaltered. Thirty years later, Pawlet documentarians Susanne and Neil Rappaport would enter the home at the invitation of one of the brothers, Charlie, and go on to produce a collection of hand-colored photographs of Minnie’s home.
Opening Reception and Gallery Talk – Thursday, February 1, 2018 - 5-7PM
Vermont Folklife Center in Middlebury, VT will host a public reception and gallery talk. Complimentary locally sourced food and drink, including beer, wine, craft cheeses, produce, and more will be served.
Exhibit on Display: January 16, 2018 through March 31, 2018
Today, nearly thirty years after Susanne and Neil entered the home, this rarely seen collection of over 45 hand-colored photographs comes to the Vermont Folklife Center as a new exhibition entitled, Up Home.
Susanne and Neil, both now deceased, titled the collection “Up Home” for an exhibition at Bennington College in the mid-1980s—the hand-colored photographs were then kept in storage, untouched themselves, for over thirty years.
Clues to Susanne and Neil’s intentions can be found in their writing about the collection. Inspired by a small photo of Minnie discovered in the house, Susanne wrote: “I look at this snapshot of Minnie, which was taken in 1923 when she was 49, just seven years older than I am now—and I know her. She speaks to me from her eyes and slight smile, a shyness around her mouth and sharp wit—I yearn to hear her voice. How do I know her? How do you get to know someone who died 20 years ago?”
Neil Rappaport recounted the circumstance though which they were invited into the house for the first time: “Charlie Griswold, Minnie's eighty-five-year-old son, and his recent bride, Bea, chose to have their portrait made at Charlie’s boyhood home. After the picture, Charlie took us into the summer-warmed old house, where the dim light gradually gave way to an image of a past preserved: everything was in its place, untouched for years. Charlie cranked the Victrola and we all sat on the overstuffed couch and rockers listening to John McCormack sing ‘Over There,’ smelling the sweet and sour aromas of age in the house. Animated beyond his usual shy reserve, Charlie led us through his Mother’s rooms, allowing us a glimpse of how she lived.”
With Charlie’s permission, Neil later return many times the following winter to photograph the rooms and everyday objects of Minnie’s life with his large format camera. On his approach to documenting the house he wrote, “The idea that people inhabit their objects and rooms had been suggested to me by all of my portrait work, and at Minnie’s I was testing it in depth. I searched for the most specific evidence of her experiences: a box filled with shrouded truths of the losses of husband and first-born child, piled over with boyhood accomplishments of surviving sons, spoke of the poles of emotion...”
In the spring, Susanne returned to the house with Neil’s black and white prints and for months carefully hand-colored the photographs—always from life, always working at Minnie’s home. On her process, she wrote, “I sought the stillness and quiet concentration of my long working days, the spring turning into summer, the light changing in the house, thinking all the time about how to more accurately bring Minnie’s colors to the photographs and how to improve my ability to see everything, every detail, in the pictures.”
Below the surface, Up Home invites an examination of the intersection of documentary and artistic representation. “The photographs are beautiful, arresting, and mysterious,” writes Ned Castle, Vermont Folklife Center Vision & Voice Gallery Curator. “Beyond the prints themselves, and what they can tell us about Minnie Griswold, the exhibit offers the unique opportunity to contemplate the complexity and nuance of the documentary exercise.”
“These photographs challenge our notion of an objective past by offering a view into the past that is both untouched, and touched,” continues Castle. “We encounter Minnie’s home as it was, left unaltered, on the day she died—and yet we do so through a medium that, by its very nature, requires we acknowledge the subjective hand of both Neil and Susanne.”
Neil even seemed to contemplate Charlie’s role in the creative process: “Gradually, another truth began to emerge as I returned again and again to the house: time had not been randomly stopped at Minnie's home. Charlie had done something analogous to making a photograph: on the day of his mother's death, thirty years ago, he had snapped the shutter closed, completing the image, and nothing had changed since! This act of reverence was so specific and powerful, that one could only wonder at it and wish to know more about such a Mother.”
“Who is Minnie Griswold?” remains the central question and fascination of the exhibition, Up Home. Susanne writes in closing, “It took Neil about a month to make these images, and it has taken me almost a year to complete the colorings. It is clear to me that I have done my part for Charlie above all else, wanting him to know that in this process I have come to understand his act of reverence and the closeness he has to his Mother. I hope these photographs extend her spirit and his meaning and devotion, as I have given myself expression.”
This exhibit was made possible with support from our Vision & Voice Gallery underwriters including: the Rotary Club of Middlebury, VT; Cabot Creamery; the Vermont Community Foundation; the Vermont Arts Council; and by our many generous supporters across the state.
The Vision & Voice Gallery is FREE & OPEN to the PUBLIC Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM. The Gallery is ADA accessible on the first floor (rear entrance) of the Folklife Center headquarters at 88 Main Street in Middlebury. The Vermont Folklife Center’s mission is to broaden, strengthen, and deepen our understanding of Vermont; to assure a repository for our collective cultural memory; and to strengthen communities by building connections among the diverse peoples of Vermont.