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In Chapman’s “Portrait Stories,” the Nameless Reclaim their Due

By Mirror Staff

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

“Portrait Stories,” the new exhibition at the Chapman Museum that opened on October 5, features portraits and the life stories of some of the area’s more distinguished citizens.

But it also includes the portraits of some individuals whose identities will never be known, and their stories, or at least their likely or plausible stories, have been supplied by local writers.

According to Tim Weidner, the Chapman’s director, the idea for a more socially textured “Portrait Stories” emerged from this past summer’s exhibition, “At the Lake.”

“The staff’s curiosity was piqued by a photo of the Ranger family, in which every individual pictured was identified by name.  Interestingly, for one woman, only her first name, Bridget, was provided,” said Weidner.

Further research turned up nothing about the woman, said Weidner.

“We can assume from her name that she was Irish, and from her clothing that she was a maid. As a servant for the Ranger family that summer, she would have prepared and served meals, cleaned the cottage and cared for the young children.  But then her story ends.  Perhaps she married or moved on to another location; we simply don’t know,” said Weidner.

According to Weidner, the gaps in the staff’s knowledge about “Bridget” led the museum to reconsider hundreds of portraits in the collection of unknown people.

“But for every one of them, we can assume there is a story,” he said. 

For “Portrait Stories,” approximately twenty portraits of people whose identities are unknown were chosen for a collaborative project with a group of Glens Falls area writers, who were invited to create stories about the subjects.

“Prompted by the imagery of a particular portrait, each writer used his or her imagination to produce a vignette about the subject,” said Weidner.

The writers include: Kim Andrews; Debbie Austin; John Briggs; Sandy Buxton; Kay Hafner; Kim Harvish; Bill Neary; Beatriz Roman; Judy Sullivan; Frieda Toth; and Montana Tracy.  Kay Hafner coordinated the writing project and edited the texts.

The exhibition will remain on view through March 1, 2015.

“Portrait Stories” is funded by grants from the Waldo T. Ross & Ruth S. Ross Charitable Trust Foundation, the City of Glens Falls and the Town of Queensbury.

The Chapman Museum is located at 348 Glen Street, Glens Falls.  Public Hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 10 am to 4 pm, and Sunday from noon to 4 pm.  For more information call (518) 793-2826.

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