Their Stories

January 27th, 2016 – May 1st, 2016


Unidentified Portrait from the Thomas Bouckley Collection. Collection of The Robert McLaughlin Gallery.

Closing: RMG Fridays, April 1, 7-10pm

Special Event: Durham Folklore Storytellers Present Their Stories, April 7, 7-9pm

“In order to take pleasure in these portraits…it does not seem to be necessary to have known the persons they represent.” – Sadakichi Hartmann

Photographic portraits are taken to document and remember one’s life, and can, in the process, capture the essence of a person’s character. Sadly, the identities of many historic portraits have been lost over time. The lives, personalities, histories and memories once associated with these portraits now a mystery.

When looking at portraits, the subjects gazing back seem to ask the viewer “Who am I?” Usually the first thing a viewer does in a museum or gallery is check the label for the identity of that person. Unidentified portraits are not commonly displayed, but they can stir the imagination. Who are they? What was their life like? The nameless faces looking back ask the viewer to imagine their lives.

We asked the community to help tell the stories of ten unidentified portraits in the Thomas Bouckley Collection. The responses we received were creative and diverse! A man standing in front of a painted backdrop of Niagara Falls, cigarette in hand, becomes a travelling shoemaker who has posted a dating profile in Matchmaker Dolly. A young woman dressed all in black winter clothing is mourning the passing of her love, a hand placed in front of her body hiding the growing baby in her womb. A priest in formal garb contemplates the implications invented technologies have on his congregation. And a handsome young man tries to mask his excitement about the engagement ring burning a hole in his pocket. Submissions included poems, short stories, letters, diary entries, and dating profiles. A jury reviewed the submissions, and the selected entries are featured in this exhibition. Congratulations to the winners!

While in the exhibition space, visitors are encouraged to further engage with the portraits by mounting their own imagined stories on a bulletin board. We may never know the identity of these people or discover more about their lives, yet it is possible to bring them to life through our imagination.

Creative Writing Winners:
Best Overall: Gwen Tuinman for “Confectionary Courtship”

Honourable Mentions:
Donald Wotton for “It’s the Little Things That Really Hurt”
Freda Jepson for “Night Train”

All stories will be available on our blog!