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The Scarlet & Black

Picture a century of history: “100 Years Ago in Grinnell” photo exibition opens

A visitor of Stewart Gallery examines the photos taken by Egbert Dunham.


A visitor of Stewart Gallery examines the photos taken by Egbert Dunham.
A visitor of Stewart Gallery examines the photos taken by Egbert Dunham.

The Grinnell Arts Center’s new exhibition in Stewart Gallery, “One Hundred Years Ago in Grinnell” opened last Thursday, Sept. 4  and will run until Saturday, Sept. 27. During the beginning of the 20th century, Grinnell farmer Egbert Dunham bought himself an Eastman Kodak film camera and began documenting everyday family life in Grinnell. The photo exhibition is a series offering a window into small town America in the period between 1912 and 1927.

Thirty-five years ago, Dunham’s family resurrected and enlarged his film negatives, displaying them in an exhibition titled “65 Years Ago in Grinnell.” Now, approximately 100 years after the photographs were taken, they have decided to re-release his prints as a reminder of how far life in Grinnell has come.

Dunham’s granddaughter, Janet Dunham, great-grandson Andy Dunham and Andy’s wife, Melissa Dunham, generously shared his collection for display by the Grinnell Arts Center.

“Andy Dunham, a great-grandson of Egbert Dunham, approached us a few months ago. He and his family preserved the photos for 35 years, after they had first been exhibited. They believed these photographs should be re-introduced into the community …” said Mary Rellergert, the Grinnell Area Arts Council Art Director.

Every inch of the exhibition’s walls is covered by a plethora of everyday images, depicting a simpler time in history. Photos showcase Fourth of July parades, people working on farms, animals living on the fields and portraits of both adults and children joyfully smiling and interacting one with another, amongst many others.

The black-and-white film pictures only depict Dunham’s family, but they transport the viewer into a time when technology and industry were not omnipresent in human life, but rather played a secondary role.

Minimalistically complementing the simplistic theme of the photo series, the pieces in the collection are not emphasized with theatrical lights or flamboyant frames, but instead delicately pinned to the wall much like what one would see at a grandmother’s house.

 “It is wonderful to see such a recording of history, especially when the pictures were not taken for the historical record as such. Egbert took the pictures because he wanted to, not to preserve anything into posterity,” Andy Dunham wrote in an email to The S&B.

Andy Dunham described his great-grandfather as very “caring” and a man who “loved playing with his grandchildren.”

These photographs are humbling to view and provide the members of the Grinnell Community an honest depiction of how much Grinnell has changed. To Andy Dunham, the expansion of Grinnell over the years is most surprising.

“It is amazing to us how much Grinnell has sprawled into the countryside, even though the population has not grown by that much,” Dunham wrote.

The Grinnell Arts Center is open Mondays through Fridays from 9:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon.


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