Photo exhibition transports viewers to mid-20th century Vermont

Hand-Colored Photographs by Susanne and Neil Rappaport
Colored images depict the Pawlet, Vt. home of Minnie Griswold in 1952.

A new exhibition at the Vermont Folklife Center in Middlebury asks “Who is Minnie Griswold?”

Its answer does not disappoint. “Up Home” literally opens a door into a past life and time preserved and now shared across the decades.

After Minnie Griswold passed away in 1952, her sons locked up their mother’s house in Pawlet, Vt., 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.

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.

Courtesy “Up Home”
Minnie Griswold

Now, nearly 30 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 once again titled, “Up Home.”

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 … and I know her. She speaks to me from her eyes and slight smile, a shyness around her mouth and sharp wit.”

Neil Rappaport recounted the circumstance though which they were invited into the house for the first time: “Charlie Griswold, Minnie’s 85-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.

With Charlie’s permission, Neil later returned 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: “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 always “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,” she wrote.

“Up Home” explores the intersection of documentary and artistic representation. “The photographs are beautiful, arresting, and mysterious,” writes Ned Castle, Vermont Folklife Center Vision & Voice Gallery Curator. “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.”

OPENING RECEPTION: Feb. 1, 5-7 p.m. at the Vermont Folklife Center in Middlebury with public with complimentary locally sourced food and drink, including beer, wine, craft cheeses, produce and more. The exhibit runs through March 31. Information: vermontfolklifecenter.org

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