Elementary Sentimentality

I’m not in an appropriate emotional state to be talking about our current exhibit development, which could include a discussion of the history of photography, the aesthetics of Victorian portraiture, or the historical change in social norms regarding the role of women in domestic and/or professional circles—all fascinating topics to be explored in “Through a Different Lens: Three Connecticut Women Photographers,” opening on October 11, 2013.

Problem is, I sent my daughter off to kindergarten this week (almost wrote “for the first time,” but that would be weird). Talk about historic change.

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After driving away from that mysterious bastille called “elementary school,” I stopped at our local frame shop to pick up the fifty-some photographs that will soon be on exhibition. As parental heart-break spilled into the work-day, I found some measure of comfort in a few of the photographs by 19th-century photographer Harriet V. S. Thorne. Hanging them temporarily in our painting storage area gave me some time to look closer at images I had only examined on my computer in earlier rounds of exhibit development.

Harriet V. S. Thorne was an amateur photographer from Bridgeport, CT, who first picked up a camera in the 1880s. I know there is some Victorian baggage in these traditional “motherhood” set-ups. Sentimentalism masked some strict ideas about where women belonged (i.e. at home with the kids). But I’m sorry, I love ‘em. A mom and her kids.

Dads and kids must not have gotten much play with the Victorians, but that’s OK, I’m in a sentimental and gracious mood. However, upon picking up our daughter after school, my wife asked her what she thought of it.

“It was too short, and I didn’t learn anything.”

Sentimentalism is for the weak.

Ben Gammell is the Coordinator of Interpretive Projects at the Connecticut Historical Society

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2 thoughts on “Elementary Sentimentality

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