By Amy Woolvett
THE COAST GUARD
The Shelburne County Museum last week received a historically valuable gift of mostly colour slides capturing Shelburne County in the 1940’s and 50’s.
The donation of the 176 slides was made by Nancy Doherty of Sterling, Massachusetts, a long time summer resident of Shelburne and her brother Ken Patterson of Port Angeles, Washington, children and heirs of John Patterson who had photographed the images.
The images are an incredible mix of history and art, accurately capturing life as it was in Shelburne’s yesteryears. “These are incredibly wonderful slides,” said Finn Bower, Curator of the museum.
She points out the fact that they are in colour, a technology just emerging on the scene at the time the photos were taken. “They are just so wonderfully done,” she said. “It is as if you took a digital camera out today.”
The man behind the camera was as extraordinary as the images themselves.
John Patterson was an accomplished artist having spent eight years as an artist with Heywood, Strasser & Voight Lithograph Company, a commercial art firm in New York City.
He was the son of Alan Patterson who in 1929 enlisted the help of John to build and establish the Sourquois Lake Cabins at Lake George just east of Shelburne.
John met his future wife Grace MacAlpine; daughter of Shelburne Yacht builder Ken MacAlpine and throughout the years would bring their children to spend their summers in Shelburne.
He was a keen outdoorsman and spent time as fishing and hunting guide and exploring the lakes and river systems in the area. “He always had a camera in his hand,” remembered Doherty.
His talent stretched far beyond photography and his star gazing in Nova Scotia soon turned into a fascinating and accomplished career as a Preparator, Curator of Scientific Collections at the New England Museum of Natural History. He vigorously campaigned for the establishment of a planetarium at that institution. When the museum was moved to a new site and renamed the Boston Museum of Science, John Patterson’s dream was realized with the construction of the Charles Hayden Planetarium in 1958. He was subsequently appointed director of the new facility and had the honour of being named Director Emeritus two years before he passed away in 1971.
Local historian Lewis M. Jackson became aware of the historically significant slides in 2002 and the following year encouraged Doherty and Ken Patterson to allow him to share the slides with the community.
He organized three public showings in 2004 and an additional showing primarily to educators in the area with the intent of using the slides as an educational tool.
The interest created by these showings led Jackson to suggest to the family that they make the slides accessible to all by donating them to the museum, “where the entire collection can be adequately preserved for future generations,” explained Jackson. “I believe it is quite a gift for Shelburne County.”
Doherty knew donating her father’s slides was a good thing to do and she and her brother wanted others to be able to enjoy the work her father created. “Dad would be proud,” she stated simply. “I think it is wonderful how Dad’s photography is being used to make Shelburne history come alive,” wrote Ken Patterson in an email to Jackson.
When asked which of her father’s slides are her favourite, Doherty replied, “all of them… every time I see them they bring back memories of growing up in Shelburne.”
The museum will now need time to conserve, arrange, scan and determine the usage of the slides before making them available for public viewing.
Museum accepts gift of historic color slides
By Amy Woolvett
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