Gallery Manager Maureen Riley Moriarty, left, and coordinator Gail Sellers stand next to William Oberst's painting 'Sunday's Rest,' part of 'The Mill Children' exhibit.
ADAMS, Mass. – The 5 Hoosac St. Gallery is hoping to be a catalyst for arts and culture in Adams with its grand opening of "The Mill Children" exhibit in early August.
Gallery coordinator Gail Sellers said the newly renovated gallery, formerly the Waverly Mill, could be the start of many new things.
"This is like the first big art space that Adams has ever had and it is in a huge mill; it's 4,500 square feet," Sellers said. "We think the space is phenomenal, and a lot of people have been getting excited about it."
The gallery will open with the exhibit based on Lewis Hine's photographs of child mill workers from around 1911. The photographs were taken to bring awareness to the issue of child labor.
"We thought we should bring this to Adams; we have all of these mills and all this history of mills," Sellers said. "It seemed like the perfect spot."
The exhibit contains paintings as well as photographs. Sellers said many of the photos were taken in Adams and North Adams and, with the help of local historical researcher Joseph Manning, one of the children in the photos was identified as an Adams resident.
"We started looking at the photographs that were from Adams, and we actually identified one of the children," she said. "It's kind of exciting that we identified a child that actually worked in this mill."
In addition to "The Mill Children," first curated by Ralph Brill at the Eclipse Mill in North Adams, the gallery will host 30 photos from photographer Leonard Freed, a photojournalist who followed Martin Luther King in 1963.
Those photos were displayed last year in the National Library of Congress and were originally supposed to be shown in the Adams Free Library.
"As the library renovation took off, we had the feeling that we really wanted to have someone there that could really talk about the photographs .... and when we saw this space we thought we would just put them together," Sellers said.
She said the gallery is looking for volunteers who could be docents for both exhibits. People who were present at any of the events in the Martin Luther King photos are welcome to come to the gallery and speak as well as anyone who has had experience in the Adams mills.
"Our plan is that we will have volunteers that know this mill's story from personal experience ... so when they convey that to visitors it is going to be interesting to see because I think the locals will be surprised about how much people care," she said.
Sellers, an Adams native who now operates a pottery in the Eclipse Mill, explained that the gallery is not just an art museum and she hopes many different kinds of exhibits could be housed in the old mill.
The other focus is to sustain the gallery so it is a fixture in Adams.
Sellers sees it as an "artistic, historic, educational and possibly even an economic driver" that could be an asset to join other sites in Adams.
"We aren't that far off the beaten path; Route 8 is a major highway so it is going to be very easy to find," she said. "We are right next to the visitors' center, we have the ski museum and the rail trail so it just seems really exciting."
Economically, this goal could be a struggle.
"We are still looking for volunteers and people to contribute, and we have a wish list," she said. "We need help paying the rent, we need docents, we need help setting up signage, and we need the community's help."
Still, she sees the gallery as a kick-starter that could potentially help Adams and its economy.
"I think we need to get people on board because mills aren't going to come back," Sellers said. "When people ask what tourism can do for our community I can't specifically say, but what I do know is that we have to think outside of the box."
Sellers also said she thinks art can live in Adams, and the gallery fills in a void.
"I know Adams is known as the center of recreation, but there is no reason why recreation and art ... can't coexist," she said.
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