Who was Bridget? The idea behind Portrait Stories started when staff at Chapman Museum in Glens Falls, NY were doing research for the summer 2014 exhibit, At the Lake. Their 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.
Additional research turned up nothing about Bridget. One 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 do not know.
That initial research project led staff to think again about the hundreds of portraits in the museum’s collection. Most of them are identified by name, but there often is little other information. For some group portraits the occasion may be identified, but the people pictured are nameless. For each of them, however, one can assume that there was a story.
Portrait Stories features a diverse group of portraits from the Chapman Museum’s collection. Included is an oil painting of Dr. Billy J. Clark, the founder of the nation’s first temperance society in Moreau, “crayon” portraits of early Quaker Lydia M. Brown and industrialist Augustus Sherman, and many smaller photographic portraits in which the subjects are identified.
Also included are twenty portraits about which little is known; however, these offer an opportunity for a creative approach. The museum collaborated with a group of Glens Falls area writers to create short stories based on a select group of portraits, including Bridget. Prompted by the imagery of a particular portrait, each writer used his or her imagination to produce a vignette about the subject.
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 manuscripts. A sampling of the images and related stories also can be found online at portraitstories.omeka.net.
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. It runs through March 1, 2015.
The Chapman Museum is located at 348 Glen Street, Glens Falls. Public Hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 10 amd to 4 pm, and Sunday from noon to 4 pm. For more information call (518) 793-2826 or go to www.chapmanmuseum.org.
Photos provided: Above, Bridget (vignette); and below, the Ranger family at their camp on Lake George, ca. 1895.