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Exhibition - Chansonetta Stanley Emmons: Staging the Past

Exhibition - Chansonetta Stanley Emmons: Staging the Past

October 7, 2022

Chansonetta Stanley Emmons: Staging the Past
September 28, 2022 - March 31, 2023

Portland, ME: Chansonetta Stanley Emmons: Staging the Past is on exhibit at Maine Historical Society’s Shettleworth Gallery. Reproductions of selected images by this pioneering Maine photographer are featured from Maine, New Hampshire, and South Carolina – including black and white, and hand-colored glass lantern slides painted by Chansonetta and her daughter, artist Dorothy Stanley Emmons. Often described as recalling a bygone era, Emmons’ glass plate negatives and lantern slides documented the lives of people, many in rural Maine regions and around the world -- during a time of rapid change between 1898 to 1930.

Chansonetta Stanley Emmons (1858-1937) began her career as a painter and art teacher. She found her true calling in 1897 with the burgeoning art form of photography, using the glass dry plate technology invented by her brothers, twins Freelan Stanley and Frank Stanley, of the Stanley Steamer automobile fame.

Contrasting today’s candid digital snapshots, glass plate era photography required extensive staging and patience. Chansonetta set her subjects in domestic interiors and agricultural landscapes, posing them in scenes reminiscent of 17th century paintings. Her photographs not only staged antiques from the past, but also documented Maine rural life, with old and new elements.

Originating from Kingfield, Maine, Emmons also lived in the Boston suburbs for over 50 years. Upon the sudden death of her husband James N.W. Emmons in 1898, she raised their young daughter Dorothy Emmons (1891- 1960) as a single mother. Dorothy also became her mother’s subject and student. They traveled on long journeys by car, and to Europe, Canada, and the American West, returning each summer to Kingfield — while taking hundreds of black and white photographs along the way. Later, Chansonetta and Dorothy hand-painted about 500 glass lantern slide images, which they presented with lectures to churches, educational meetings, and communities across New England.

The Stanley Museum owns the Chansonetta Stanley Emmons Photographic Collection, currently on deposit at MHS. Much of the collection was gifted to The Stanley Museum by Chansonetta’s nephew, Raymond Stanley, after Dorothy’s death in 1960. The collection includes approximately 1,600 items encompassing glass plate negatives, glass lantern slides, and photographic prints. Maine Historical Society is in the process of digitizing these images, available on Maine Memory Network.

How to see Maine Historical Society Exhibitions:

In addition to seeing Chansonetta Stanley Emmons: Staging the Past in our galleries, visitors can also enjoy the landmark exhibition, Northern Threads: Two Centuries of Dress at Maine Historical Society, Part II, through December 31, 2022. Visit our exhibition page for details on tickets and admission to MHS galleries on 489 Congress Street in Portland. Access for MHS members is free; general admission adults $10; children (6-17) $5, and under 6, free. Become a member for access to discount benefits and more.

Chansonetta Stanley Emmons: Staging the Past is also accessible online 24/7 on the Maine Memory Network digital history platform.

For more information:

Maine Historical Society
489 Congress Street, Portland, ME 04101

Maine Historical Society preserves and shares Maine's story to enrich life in contemporary Maine.