Gallery Looks At “The Way We Worked”

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A century ago mills were a central feature of working life in the Upper Valley. Generations of families depended on them for their livelihood. 

Now one example of the area’s industrial history is being highlighted in a traveling Smithsonian Museum exhibit.

The exhibit on display at the AVA Gallery and Arts Center in Lebanon is called "The Way We Worked". 

It charts the course of the American worker from farm to factory, through wars and the depression.

At each stop as it tours the nation the exhibit is augmented by local historical material. The AVA Gallery didn’t have to look far to find what it needed.  

When the gallery moved into an abandoned building in Lebanon in 1990 Executive Director Bente Torjusen knew it had once housed the H.W. Carter and Sons overall factory, famous for work clothing.  But a renovation five years ago yielded a surprise.

"We discovered the exterior walls of an old warehouse imbedded right in the middle of the building," says Torjusen. 

She’s standing in the gallery’s lobby where a section of an old exterior wall  and slate shingled roof have been exposed.  "We have transformed it into a historical display area with old sewing machines and clothing that was made in the former factory."

The history of the building is still evident in the gallery that occupies it today and still alive in the factory workers who survive.  

Thelma Follensbee, worked at the H.W. Carter and Sons for nearly 50 years.  She started in 1935. 

"I liked it.  It was hard but I have no regrets," says Follensbee. 

Follensbee was 16 years old when she started working in the factory.  She said it was a good job to have and even as a teenager, she harbored no dreams of a different life.

"Not then.  It was such a different era," she explains.  You knew you were going to have to work so you do it." 

Follensbee, who is now 94, followed her mother and her grandmother into the mill. 

Eugene Dauphinais was also 16 when he started at the mill in 1947.  He worked until it closed in 1985.    He left school in the 8th grade to help support his parents and 9 siblings.

"My father was having a hard time, so we had to work to support the family.  We had 10 kids,"he says.

Photographs of Dauphinais and Follensbee are among those on display as part of the Smithsonian exhibit.   

The two are also featured in a new documentary about the factory.

"The Way We Worked" is on display through January 27th at the Ava Art Gallery in Lebanon.  A lecture series and film screening are also scheduled in January.

Gallery of photos

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