Vermont FolkLife Center Features Pardo’s Photography in Spring Exhibit

By PORTER BOWMAN

Porter Bowman/The Middlebury Campus
Images from the Ice Shanties exhibit feature a typical day’s catch.

Nestled between Otter Creek Bakery and Two Brothers Tavern, the Vermont Folklife Center (VFC) is giving people a glimpse into a winter pastime shared by many local Vermonters. This spring, the VFC’s exhibit “Ice Shanties: Fishing, People & Culture” features the work of Vermont-based Colombian photographer Federico Pardo, who documented the ice fishing community on the West River in Brattleboro.

Ice shanties are small structures used for ice fishing that are placed on frozen portions of lakes, rivers and floodplains. Pardo, whose work focuses on the human relationship with nature, noted that these ice shanties “became an instant curiosity and a subject of fascination” when he saw them reemerge on the West River each winter.

The images are carefully constructed pieces of photography. Pardo used long-duration exposures to capture the shanties at night, which were a way to capture themes of “etherealness, solitude and contemplation.” Through his use of the sunset and the nighttime sky, he creates “a surreal quality of blended night and day … that tempt us to imagine otherworldly narratives about the shanties, their owners and the seemingly timeless space they inhabit,” according to the VFC.

The shanties in Brattleboro are just one of many ice fishing communities that arise every winter across the state. According to John Barstow, the VFC’s Director of Development, ice fishing and the use of ice shanties are representative of “an oddball, subculture of local Vermonters.” Barstow noted that many shanty owners view it as a hobby but will often keep the fish to cook for a meal. Along with the shanties, the exhibit also shows Pardo’s photographs of the different types of fish that are typical catches from a day of ice fishing, such as the yellow perch, the chain pickerel and the golden shiner.

The VFC also worked with Pardo to conduct interviews and document the stories of the fishermen/women behind each of the shanties. The recorded interviews are available to viewers of the exhibit using a smartphone app or by calling a phone number to hear excerpts from the interviews. One such participant, Roy Gangloff of Dunnerston, can be heard discussing how he found the perfect leftover scraps from a construction project to build his sturdy and lightweight ice shanty, one he has used for over 25 years. Gangloff also tells stories about his fellow fisherman and of growing up ice fishing on similar lakes and rivers with his father.

This method of powerful storytelling is what the VFC is all about, according to Barstow.  “Folklore is being created every day by everyday people, and a lot of folklife is history,” he said. Jessie Kuzmicki ’19 worked with the VFC this summer as a MuseumWorks intern.

“I think all too often people idealize Vermont and its rural lifestyle, assuming that a certain quaint homogeneity exists throughout the state,” she said, a Vermonter herself.

Kuzmicki’s work on several VFC projects, including hearing stories from farmers in Rutland, drag queens in Brattleboro or migrant farm workers in Addison County “can bring awareness to and appreciation for the state’s multifaceted culture and people.”

Much of the work of the VFC is done to encourage Vermonters to learn more about one another. This ranges from  empowering kids to go out into their own communities and interview people to maintaining an apprenticeship program to teach people crafts that could otherwise be lost, such as blacksmithing, weaving or playing the fiddle.Barstow also mentioned the work done by the VFC in immigrant communities in Burlington, especially with the large Bhutanese and Nepali immigrant population. The VFC supports efforts for families to teach their children music and culture in order to allow communities to maintain their cultural identities from generation to generation.

The VFC is engaged in a variety of other efforts, including housing a large archive of records and resources for folklife from different communities in Vermont, as well as their podcast, “Vermont Untapped,” which delves into the different offerings of the archive. The original exhibits that start in Middlebury will also rotate out to other towns such as Brattleboro, St. Albans, Newport, and Bennington in order to spread the work of the VFC to different corners of the state.

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.