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Pittsfield 1910: A Berkshire Museum Centennial Exhibition

 

One hundred years ago, horses pulled sleighs through snow-covered streets, ships sailed Lake Pontoosuc, trolley cars carried passengers through the streets, and the Berkshire Museum opened its doors on South Street in downtown Pittsfield. The horses and trolleys are long gone, but the Berkshire Museum is still there, serving the community as it has for 100 years.

The Museum begins a year of centennial celebrations with Pittsfield 1910: A Berkshire Museum Centennial Exhibition, a collection of photographs that capture the simplicity and beauty of the early years of the 20th century in Pittsfield. The exhibition runs from through April 14, 2003. (left: "J.W. and Bill Stevens with These Flying Merkel Motorcycles at 11 Park Street)

New York photographer Michael Fredericks found a box of 100-year-old glass negatives at a tag sale, wrapped in paper towels with captions written in red crayon. The negatives belonged to Bernard LaPlante, a retired New York State trooper. According to LaPlante, the negatives have never been developed, so the photographs have never been seen before, and the photographer remains unknown. Many pictures were taken in the same neighborhood of Northeast Pittsfield, near Tyler Street, between North Street and Woodlawn Avenue and he (or she, since photography was a "woman's hobby") may have lived in this neighborhood.

The photographer shot these pictures with a camera that used 5" x 7" glass negatives, a process that was outdated by then, replaced by acetate photographic film in 1885. Some of the photographs were also taken with a wide-angle lens, which is not often seen in historical photographs.

To develop the prints, Fredericks combined 20th and 21st century technology. The 100-year-old glass negatives were photographed on a light table with a digital camera. This created a large file (14 MB) for each image. Using image editing software, he converted the negative image to a positive. The image could then be sharpened and improved in ways that would not have been possible using conventional darkroom techniques.

Fredericks has been a professional photographer since 1968. Widely published in books and magazines, recent projects include books on ancient Egyptian faience, the late Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller's collection of contemporary art, and Art Deco radios. He also produced the photography for Bob Vila's last three books on tools and home restoration.

"If you have an interest in the history of Pittsfield and the Berkshires, these photographs are not to be missed" said Ann Mintz, director of the Berkshire Museum. "This exhibition is a perfect way to begin a year-long celebration of the Museum's first 100 years serving this community."

Pittsfield 1910: A Berkshire Museum Centennial Exhibition is part of a year of special programs celebrating the Berkshire Museum's 100 Years of Discovery, 1903-2003.

 

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