Sunday, March 30, 2008

Pictures and histories

A picture is worth a thousand words, says the old saying.
And they are - but pictures with the words and the story behind them preserved are beyond value.

In part of my moving into my new office at the Ozark Folk Center, I went down to the storage/archives to look for office furniture. While looking for comfortable chairs, I found stacks and stacks of old photographs.

There were pictures of Folk Center crafters from the 1970's, 80' and 90's. There are many wall-sized mounted black and white photos of broom makers, weavers and coopers. A few dozen labeled and framed photos of current crafters. Several color photos with names, or just a craft, some of those mis-labeled, a weaver is labeled "Quilter".
And there are 4 nice water color paintings of crafters - 3 in a series and one unique and beautiful one.

A box contains about 30 small, oak framed black and white photos from the late 1800's to the mid-1900's. These are labeled with information - stuck to the frames with scotch tape.

These pictures drew me, called to me, fascinated me. I had to bring them up out of the archives. They needed to be seen, shared and labeled - while the people who knew these people, crafts and events are still at the Folk Center. The stories behind the photos needs telling, keeping, sharing.

I lined the pictures up in the office hallway Friday afternoon. The hallway is a blank slate, empty walls needing focus. The few people in the office flipped through them, sharing bits of tales. The pictures looked a bit tattered, edges loose, dusty, faded in places. I stacked them in an order and left them to sort themselves out.

The box of little pics I took into my office. Some of the hard-faced people from the early 1900's were almost frightening in their scowling seriousness - and yet - one picture from that time showed a family that was round and soft. City folk, I decided.

I sorted several of the old black and whites that I thought might fit in my office and set them next to my worktable. I also found 3 colored photos from the 1980's of women fiber artists at the Folk Center. They would make an artistic display next to my 7-foot triloom, which already takes up a big chunk of one wall.

But suddenly, it didn't seem right. These pictures weren't part of my story, they aren't my history. They didn't belong in my office. I felt like an outsider. I don't know the stories behind these pictures, the people, the lives, the hopes and the dreams. I don't know where they fit, how I fit in, how it all goes together.

So I took them all out into the hall. I lined them up and left them all sitting together, a century of history of the people of this land. I hope, over the next week, people will help me sort these photos, hang them up, tell their stories. And in the sharing, we can write a new chapter of the history together.

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