Often, when we consider the past (or future) in a public context, we look to major historic events to describe time and place. I think this approach misses the personal stories and intimate lives of the people who are the authentic energy of time and place. These projects, Seeds, Photobooth and Community Portrait Wall, are meant to foster personal and community reflection through thought provoking questions and the sharing of personal stories. These projects are tools to explore the web of connections formed between friends and neighbors, and past and present residents.
These works began with the simple idea of starting a conversation about Waterville and what is in store for its future. Walking down Main Street, noticing the last century’s empty storefronts and closed mills, I couldn’t escape wondering about the evolution of this mill town in response to declining industry, the migration of manufacturing abroad, and internet inspired decentralization of economy and social interaction Waterville is at a unique moment to thoughtfully reflect, and, perhaps, intentionally shape itself into the best community of its imagination.
During the first stage, 15 Seed Pods – each with a unique theme – were passed among residents. Recipients were asked to do two things: respond to the question with a personal reflection and place it in the vessel, and, secondly, pass the Seed onto a neighbor in person, asking them to do the same. By passing the Seeds from person to person, these vessels acted as a focal point to gather, build, celebrate, and document these past and present connections. I sought to stimulate one-on-one conversations and to build trust.
During the second stage, I visited Waterville for two weeks with the Photobooth Project. I wheeled a portable photo studio cart throughout town asking people to share stories about Waterville while also recording the faces of this community. Through this one-on-one interaction, I began to know Waterville.
All of the collected information – reflections from the Seeds, stories from the Photobooth, and portraits taken along the way – became the raw material for this Community Portrait Collage. It tells a story of pride, deep roots and long family connections. Sure, the mills are closed and storefronts are empty, but there is optimism and vitality – a new community market, a vibrant farmers’ market, and new stores mixed between decades old businesses. I find Waterville a town full of warmth, friendliness, character and promise. I wonder how we will see ourselves in another few years. What changes are quietly underfoot now that will reveal substantive shifts in our future?