Photo Gallery | The Mill Children Exhibit

ADAMS -- The Mill Children have a home, at least temporarily, in one of the Berkshire County mills where many of them worked a century ago.

At the 5 Hoosac Street Gallery, the Mill Children exhibition opened on July 26, with a grand opening celebration set for Aug. 15 from 6 to 8 p.m.

The Mill Children uses photographs shot by Lewis Hine in 1911 and 1916 at mills in Adams and North Adams. He was documenting the working conditions and lifestyles for employees younger than 18, and much of his work was used to make the case against child labor, eventually resulting in the passage of the early versions of child labor laws.


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Some of the exhibition includes paintings based on the subjects in the Hine photos. One of the subjects of Hine's study in child labor turned out to have a daughter living in the same house where she was raised.

Claudette Marcil recognized her dad, Sylva Marcil, at 14 years old in a Hine photo from her father's post in the mill. She had never seen that image until then.

Part of the point of the "Mill Children" exhibit is an attempt to identify the child laborers in the Hine photos.

Jacob Kunzmann, 11, studies a painting at ‘The Mill Children’ exhibit at the 5 Hoosac Street Gallery in Adams on Wednesday. The painting is by
Jacob Kunzmann, 11, studies a painting at ‘The Mill Children’ exhibit at the 5 Hoosac Street Gallery in Adams on Wednesday. The painting is by Bill Oberst. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff / photos.berkshireeagle.com)

Hine kept notes on each of his photos and identified his subjects. But for some reason, he made no such notes on his 1916 photos from the local mills. Thus, no identification of the young subjects exists, and descendants may be the only ones to provide that.

Local historian Joe Manning has been trying help to tell the stories of the young workers by identifying them, tracing their lineage and establishing the facts or their lives.

"They aren't just anonymous photographs," Manning said. "Knowing who they are and how they lived gives them a personality. It gives them dignity. It makes them more respectable, in a sense."

Now families and school classes will be able to learn together what Northern Berkshire kids had to do to help their families survive in the age of industrialization.

Joshua Kuntzmann, 13, of Savoy paid a visit to the gallery Wednesday afternoon, having already done some study on the subject at his home school. The visit was illuminating.

"We're lucky we don't have to work in factories with bad conditions," he said. "It's amazing to think of what they went through and the changes we've made since then."

Gallery manager Maureen Riley-Moriarty said that when the gallery opened, a couple of men who once worked in the mills came by. They picked up some of the tools they used in the cotton mills and started playing with them, like they did when they were kids on the factory floor.

"That was the best part -- watching them tell their story and reliving it like they were little kids," Moriarty said. "That is part of the reward."

Also part of the exhibit is another photographic journey through history: "The March on Washington," which features photographs by Magnum Photographer Leonard Freed.

Freed was in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 28, 1963, to photograph the march by Americans of African heritage. Freed, an American living in Holland, was trying to understand the Civil Rights Movement that was underway.

The Getty Museum wanted to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the march, and selected Freed's photographs for "This Is the Day," a book with a forward by Julian Bond. The book and exhibition were launched at the Library of Congress.

Any visitor to the grand opening on Aug. 15 who was at the March on Washington in 1963 and will share a few words about their experience will receive a free copy of "This Is the Day" signed by Brigitte Freed. Leonard Freed died in 2006 and the Brill Gallery of North Adams represents the Freed Estate.

In an effort to make the exhibition more interactive, the gallery has employed the use of QR codes on smartphones and other mobile devices to find more information and view video presentations from the artists.

Artists who contributed to the Mill Children exhibit include painters William Oberst and Dawn Nelson, musician Matt Hopkins, historian Joe Manning, educator Anne French, film maker Steve Borns and historian Eugene Michalenko.

Admission to the gallery is free. The show is scheduled to run until Dec. 15. Gallery hours are noon to 6 p.m.