Super-large photos, audio interviews on exhibit

MIDDLEBURY — To celebrate the opening of their new exhibit, the Vermont Folklife Center will host a public reception and gallery talk on Thursday, May 25, from 4-7 p.m. “The Dames” is an exhibition of large format color portraits paired with audio interview recordings, featuring members of the National Society of Colonial Dames of America in the state of Vermont.
Complimentary locally sourced food and drink, including an assortment of “tea sandwiches,” craft cheeses, produce, and more will be served. The gallery talk will commence at 5:45 p.m.
The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America (NSCDA) is a women’s lineage organization founded in Philadelphia in 1892. Vermont joined the Society in 1898, and it is now one of forty-four state societies with over 15,000 members nationwide.
The Vermont group is among the smallest, with a current membership of 41 Dames. They work on community service projects, historic preservation, patriotic service and educational programs to promote “education of our citizens and youth about the past and to stimulate interest, patriotism and love of country.”
But who are these women, these Dames? For the past two years, Vermont Folklife Center researchers have conducted an oral history and photographic documentation project in collaboration with the Vermont Society of the NSCDA to answer that question.
For many people, ancestral lineage organizations such as the Colonial Dames are a world apart. Peering from the outside in we might be intrigued by their celebration of family and colonial history, patriotic service, and shared values or, alternately, made uncomfortable by perceptions of elitism surrounding their lineage-based membership.
Without exception, these Dames speak of strong connections to history and to nature, and of families who prioritized education for their daughters. Most began their educations at women’s colleges in WWII and post-war times, just as traditional assumptions about women’s roles and capabilities were overturning. Curious and earnest, dedicated and persistent, they have prided themselves in being life-long learners and lasting contributors to their wider communities.
Many speak honestly and intimately of complex issues surrounding privilege, exclusivity, and the relevance of their society in today’s world. They shed light on challenges in their personal lives met with grace and courage, opportunities embraced with pioneering spirit and preparedness, lives lived with a strong sense of purpose, the impact of changing gender roles across their lifetimes and a coming to terms with aging.
Ethnographic inquiry aspires to make people visible to one another across difference, and with that intention in mind, the exhibit invites viewers to drop into conversation with these Dames and meet them on their own terms.
The Vision & Voice Gallery at the Folklife Center, where the exhibit resides, is free and open to the public Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Gallery is ADA accessible and on the first floor of the Vermont Folklife Center headquarters building at 88 Main Street in Middlebury.

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