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.


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

2 thoughts on “Elementary Sentimentality

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