Monday, February 12, 2018

Rediscovering an American Community of Color in Worcester

Monday, February 12, 2018
Martha (Patsy) Perkins, 1901
Loretta reports:

A little over a hundred years ago, a white photographer took hundreds of pictures of people in central Massachusetts. Among these were more than 230 portraits of people of color who lived within easy walking distance of my home. I had no idea this community existed until I went to see Rediscovering an American Community of Color: The Photographs of William Bullard at the Worcester Art Museum.

There are several amazing things about this exhibition. First, the glass negatives survived for over a century and ended in the hands of a collector who was also a devoted Worcester historian.* Second, the photographer’s logbook also survived, and stayed with the photographs. Third, thanks to his granddaughter’s making the connection between tiny numbers on the negatives and the logbook, it became possible to identify the people in the photographs. Thus, the Clark University students who researched the photographs were able to contact many of their subjects’ descendants. Also, during my third visit to the exhibition (yes, it’s that good, that moving), I got to meet one of those descendants.

The Beaver Brook neighborhood became a new home when the Ku Klux Klan and white backlash, combined with a national depression and the end of Reconstruction, destroyed the lives that former slaves had been making for themselves in the South. They came north, and some came to Worcester, “a city with a deep abolitionist tradition and influential white residents sympathetic to their plight.”**
Thomas A. and Margaret Dillon Family, about 1904

Since it’s impossible to do the show justice in a blog post, I offer links.

The Worcester Art Museum page on the Bullard exhibition includes several reviews well worth reading as well as a short YouTube video.

This exhibition runs until 25 February—only a few more weeks. However, thanks to Clark University’s collaboration with the museum, we can see many of the images at the website, Rediscovering an American Community of Color: The Photographs of William Bullard, 1897-1917.

There you’ll find not only a gallery of the photos, but also a page about the collection and the photographer, a map of the neighborhood in 1911, essays connected to the images, and a chance to add information and/or comment on individual photos.

I also highly recommend the beautiful exhibition catalog.

*Frank J. Morrill, a retired history teacher and collector, and definitely and delightfully a Nerdy History Person.
**quote from exhibition catalog.

Images: William Bullard, Martha (Patsy) Perkins, 1901  and Thomas A. and Margaret Dillon Family, about 1904, courtesy of Frank Morrill, Clark University and Worcester Art Museum.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.


Lucy said...

I spent quite a bit of time looking at the digitized photos when I spotted this in Breakfast Links last week--well worth a post of their own! They were, and are beautiful, and the only tragic note is William's self-inflicted death. I wish he had gone on to do more of the work he did.

Vanessa Kelly said...

What utterly splendid portraits. I really loved the winter scene of the father with his children, with the baby carriage and the sled. Thanks for sharing this!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for visiting the exhibition and for your words of support for it and all the research that has been done by Professor Greenwood and me along with Clark students. The website will soon be expanded and will continue to be hosted permanently by Clark. After the exhibition ends at the Worcester Art Museum on February 25th we will continue to reach out to descendants and to bring these photographs (there are another 160 not in the exhibition) of an American Community of Color to other communities around the country.

Frank J. Morrill

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