Photographer Chuck Fish stands in front of some of the photos that make up the “Faces of Dummerston” exhibit, which opens on June 11 at the Dummerston Historical Society.
Randolph T. Holhut/The Commons
Photographer Chuck Fish stands in front of some of the photos that make up the “Faces of Dummerston” exhibit, which opens on June 11 at the Dummerston Historical Society.

The evolving portrait of a small town

Photographer Chuck Fish calls ‘Faces of Dummerston’ exhibit a ‘work in progress’

DUMMERSTON — Photos of close to 150 people - from generations past as well as some of the just shy of 2,000 people who call this iconic town home today - will soon be featured in an exhibit Faces of Dummerston.

Society member Chuck Fish has been working to help organize and create this event at the Dummerston Historical Society for many months.

“It's important to remember that this exhibit represents the town,” he said. “It is an attempt to portray a lot of people who make up this wonderful community. The Historical Society is attempting to bring the attention to ourselves, to remind us all what a wonderful community we have.”

Fish, who originally came to town in 1968 to teach at Windham College in Putney after leaving Princeton University, has always had a love for both history and photography.

He remembers how photographs came to the Society, now housed in an old Dummerston schoolhouse in the center of town.

“The Society asked the folks in town if they would like to share family pictures with us, and over the years, we've amassed quite a collection,” he said. “The photographs, which span a lot of years of history, came from family albums, special projects, and photos taken of special events. We've also taken many of our own.”

Resident Kevin Ryan offered his computer skills to assist in organizing the thousands of photos now held by the society.

“Kevin's help in digitalizing the collection and teaching us new computer skills was incredibly helpful,” Fish said. “We're very grateful to him for sharing his talents with the society.”

How it came to be

Fish remembers how the idea for the exhibit was first proposed.

“We were at a meeting, post-Covid, deciding that it could be time to open our building back up again,” he said.

According to Fish, Historical Society President Muriel Taylor suggested that the board “needed to think about the future programs and exhibits we might like to take on when we reopened.” Member Gail Sorenson suggested a photo project that features Dummerston people.

“That got the wheel rolling,” he said.

'So many different sources'

This isn't the first exhibit Fish and the society have worked on. One featured a photographic history of Dr. Grace Burnett, born in Dummerston in 1886. Unusual for her time, Dr. Burnett, going from home to home via a carriage pulled by her Morgan horses, became a family doctor in the area, running a general practice, and delivering more than 3,000 babies in homes.

Fish said that Sylvio “Shorty” Forrett bought Dr. Burnett's family albums from her estate sale after she died, and he let the Society copy the photos. A few of the photos in this show will feature Dr. Burnett.

“There were so many wonderful photographs, it was difficult to choose,” he said.

There were also far too many to credit most of them individually, though “Catherine Dianich Gruver did a special exhibit of her modern grayscale pictures a long time ago, and there are enough of her photos in this exhibit that we've credited her in the guide,” Fish said.

Some of the photos are well over 100 years old, some are recent, and most fall in between these extremes.

Many faces will be familiar to residents.

Some feature Ellsworth Bunker, a diplomat who served seven presidents, shown out in a field on his farm.

“Mr. Bunker's son Sam gave the society several of his father's artifacts, which we sold to create the new addition to our school building, the Bunker Room,” Fish said. “There is a picture of Sam in the exhibit, too.”

Other residents pictured in the exhibit include Dwight Miller and his family, Jody and Paul Normandeau, Don Hazelton. Rick Wilson, Shorty Forrett, Wayne Emery, Tom and Barbara Johnson.

“Clyde Johnson the veterinarian will be there, too,” said Fish with a wide smile. “Local writer Joyce Marcel is also there with her flaming red hair.”

Curating the life of a town

When Fish and Ryan were sorting through the photos, they made many categories, including people, buildings, landscapes, and events.

“The photos in this exhibit are meant to focus on the people, not what they are doing in the moment,” Fish noted.

The photos have “all been looked at, studied, often cropped, and reshaped,” Fish said.

“I concentrated on the faces, making them easy to see, visible, and attractive,” he said, noting that almost all these photos were taken in Dummerston at public events or at the subjects' own homes.

The walls of the Society's museum building are almost entirely covered with photos. At the center of the exhibit, on a long table, Fish's camera collection provides “a capsule history of photography over the last 100 years or so.”

Fish underscored the subtitle of the exhibit, “A work in progress.”

“After the pics come off the wall in a couple of months, they will be saved in albums,” he said. “Our hope is to continue to add to these albums. People who aren't yet in the books will be welcome to get in later.”

The subtitle is important, he said, because “this isn't the end of the project.”

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