Ross Connelly | White Water Gallery | Shows | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Ross Connelly

When: June 5-July 17 2022

Like many tiny towns in Vermont, East Hardwick (pop. 1,166) has its own post office and not much else. Sure, there’s a popular destination for plant lovers — Summersweet Gardens Nursery at Perennial Pleasures — but locals and visitors alike might easily miss the art gallery. In fact, White Water Gallery shares quarters with Teuscher’s Antique Auto Enclave on River Street. “Cars as sculpture and art in the same venue,” declares owner James Teuscher, a blacksmith and teacher, on his website. Gallery hours are limited, so he advises calling for an appointment. In addition to Teuscher’s automobilia and personal art collection, a current temporary exhibition is well worth making that call. Titled “Protest, Washington, D.C., 1967, 1968, 1969,” it comprises 55 framed black-and-white photographs taken by Ross Connelly. In the tumultuous late ’60s, he was a college student at Howard University and had a front-row seat to the demonstrations in the nation’s capital. But he wasn’t sitting down. Connelly — the now-retired copublisher and editor of the Hardwick Gazette — participated in many protests ignited by the Vietnam War and the push for civil rights. And in 1967, he explains in an artist statement, Connelly “volunteered to be a grip for a West German television journalist” who was covering the March on the Pentagon. More than 100,000 people rallied against the war in that event. After graduation in 1968, he writes, he was working for the Poor People’s Campaign when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated “and troops occupied parts of the city.” A student of political science at Howard and in graduate school at the University of Michigan, Connelly also pursued training in photography. Both interests served his eventual career as a newspaperman. After all, “Journalism is the first rough draft of history,” to quote the late Washington Post publisher Philip Graham. Connelly’s dramatic photos — printed from negatives he’d stashed in a closet for decades — are not just the stuff of nostalgia. “The events were over a half-century ago,” he writes, “but their significance is current.” In a phone call, Connelly observed some then-and-now issues: the struggle for racial justice and women’s rights; voter suppression; and a president, in the early 1970s and recently, “who went off the rails.” But Connelly insisted that positive changes resulted from the protests of the 1960s. “We’ve had a Black president, we have a Black female vice president,” he said. At the hearings of the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol, he pointed out, “it’s Bennie Thompson [who is Black], Liz Cheney and Zoe Lofgren sitting up there. That didn’t happen by chance.” Asked what he hopes viewers might take away from his exhibit, Connelly said, “Hopefully, the photos show the fight now is to recognize what was won then and not let it be rolled back. Keeping the vote came from the fight to get the vote. Students rebelled in the 1960s. Their grandchildren are the leaders pushing for gun safety. “Democracy is fragile, and the system is complex,” Connelly continued. “Then and now, there is a need to speak up, speak out and be engaged.”