Hand-colored photo exhibit now at Bennington Museum

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BENNINGTON — Who was Minnie Griswold and what her life was like? These are the questions being unwrapped in "Up Home: Hand-Colored Photographs by Susanne and Neil Rappaport." First unveiled at the Vermont Folklife Center in February, 2018, the collection of over 45 hand-colored photographs taken in Griswold's Pawlet home are now on view at Bennington Museum, March 30 through June 11. This exhibition brings together the best in documentary work and artistic expression.

Minnie Griswold died in 1952, at which time her sons locked up their mother's house in Pawlet and left all her belongings in place, untouched, unaltered, a type of shrine to their mother. Having lost their father to a mill accident when they were young, the boys had been raised single-handedly by their mother. Her life in Vermont was simple yet hard.

The making of Up Home

Thirty years later, in the 1980s, Pawlet documentarians Susanne and Neil Rappaport were invited by Charlie, one of Griswold's sons, then in his 80s, into the home. There they observed all of the home's belongings - in place, seemingly unaltered. Combining their creativity, Neil Rappaport went about photographing the rooms and everyday objects in black and white, using his large format camera.

"Black-and-white photography would tell of too somber a Minnie Griswold; its portrayal would make too much of her tragedies, too little of her joys," Neil Rappaport said at the time. "The photographs would have to be open to coloring if any sense of her true spirit was to be conveyed."

Susanne Rappaport then spent almost a year in Griswold's home hand-coloring the images, capturing the life that had been in the home. Susanne and Neil have since died, Neil in 1998 and Susanne in 2015, but the images they created provide insight into Griswold's life through the items left behind.

"Her [Griswold's] colors gave a living energy to the image space and it was a challenge to get better at making that happen. One at a time, the black-and-white photographs were being transformed and illuminated anew," Susanne Rappaport said.

As a part of her process, Susanne Rappaport completed a number of smaller practice prints. The photographs she practiced on where Neil Rappaport's contact prints—test prints he made as he worked toward creating the final versions. Before his final prints would become her canvas, these contact prints appear to have been her color sketchbook. Viewing the colored version of Living Room Sofa side-by-side with the uncolored print presents a striking contrast. By comparing the two, one can understand the impact of the Rappaports' creative decision - in seeing the Griswold home in color and not black and white.

On Sunday, from 3 to 5 p.m., special guest Alan David Griswold, great grandson of Minnie Griswold, will join Bennington Museum curator Jamie Franklin, Andy Kolovos of the Vermont Folklife Center, and Eileen Travell of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the museum's Spring Social and exhibit opening. This event is free and open to the public.

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