PORTSMOUTH — While they were toting their Nikons and Canons all over town during a recent class outing, Rose Escobar said she was surprised by how little her students knew about Portsmouth’s historical treasures.
“Last week was kind of an introduction and to expose the kids on what we have today,” said Ms. Escobar, an art teacher at Portsmouth High School. “What are we preserving today? Where are these locations? I was shocked that a lot of the kids had no knowledge that some of these places even existed or how they came about. Unless you actually ride horses, for instance, most people don’t go down to the (Glen Farm) stables. They didn’t know the town owned it, they’ve never seem the building. They were mesmerized with the architecture, with the history.”
And, pressing their shutter buttons over and over, they recorded that history for prosperity.
Ms. Escobar said she hopes the assignment will not only sharpen her advanced-placement (AP) photography students’ skills, but become part of a larger project to preserve history.
“It’s multi-faceted and has a lot of potential to go in different directions,” said Ms. Escobar, adding that the Portsmouth Arts Guild may join in. Students are creating a permanent record of their work under the theme, “Portsmouth History, Then and Now.”
“It’s kind of like a ‘A Day in the Life’ concept,” she said.
A member of the Portsmouth 375th Steering Committee, Ms. Escobar said the project is also part of a collaboration between the town’s sister city of Portsmouth, England, where she and other residents visited in May. Councillor Lynne Stagg, the lord mayor of Portsmouth, England, visited here over the Labor Day weekend, as did mayors from Portsmouth, Va., and Portsmouth, N.H.
Although they’re still working on the details, she said there will be an opening of Portsmouth (R.I.) students’ works at the Portsmouth Cathedral in England on June 14, 2014.
“They were hoping that maybe I could come and bring some students or some artists,” said Ms. Escobar, adding that the town hopes to host an exhibit of art from Portsmouth, England, possibly in May.
In a separate project with Portsmouth, England, artists are invited to create a tile with a design that represents the town. Artists will be charged $10 for each tile, with a jury picking the best 25 works.
“Twenty-five of them will be shipped to England and 25 of England’s will be shipped here,” said Ms. Escobar.
For more information about the tile project, e-mail Ms. Escobar at [email protected]
Historical landmarks visited
Ms. Escobar’s AP photography students visited several historical landmarks recently, starting with the Portsmouth Historical Society. A member of the Society who’s also working on the project, Gloria Schmidt, has known Ms. Escobar since their time working together at the since-closed Elmhurst Elementary School. She was the school librarian while Ms. Escobar taught art.
“The very first project we had on the Manor House and the Glen, Rose did the photography with the kids and I did the research with the kids. That’s how I got started doing local history research,” said Ms. Schmidt.
“We were trying to take them to places where you could actually see Portsmouth history,” said Ms. Schmidt.
The trip also included a stop at Prescott Farm, which may seem like an usual destination since it’s just over the Middletown line on West Main Road. Ms. Schmidt pointed out, however, that most of the buildings on the property have a connection to Portsmouth’s past.
“The windmill had been at Lehigh Hill, it had been at Quaker Hill. So it had been moved (to Prescott Farm) but it had been a Portsmouth artifact. The little building there was the Bristol Ferry men’s cottage,” she said.
Likewise, the guard house at Prescott Farm was originally located near the Overing House on West Main Road where, during the Revolutionary War, British commander in chief Gen. Richard Prescott was captured by Col. William Barton of Rhode Island.
“Even though that one little part may be in Middletown, it is Portsmouth’s history,” said Ms. Schmidt.
Important role to play
Ultimately, Ms. Escobar said, the end goal is for students to create some sort of “product” out of their field trip work.
“Now they feel they have an important role to play — how to help document today and maybe create more awareness,” she said, adding that students want to go back and interview residents for an oral history. They’ve talked about having exhibits at the library, scrapbooks, a website and other possibilities.
“What I tell them is, photography is an amazing opportunity to record time. Everybody’s taking pictures, but what are people really doing with them? How do pictures really help preserve the past?” she said. “All of these threads, when they weave together, will create an amazing new tapestry about who we really are — the pulse that brings community together.”