Warren's 'Silent Generation' speaks


Alex Mikulski remembered delivering milk to the many Speak-Easys that dotted Water Street. Judith Davidson could clearly recall the British soldiers who used to buy lemonade from her stand as they visited the shipyards along the Warren River. And Bertha Lial had fond memories of the days when her family farm was one of the biggest operations around.

The voices of nine Warren residents born just before World War II tell the story of a simpler Warren, where neighbors all knew each other and life wasn’t always easy, but was always good. They’re all part of a new exhibit that starts next Thursday, Nov. 14 at the Imago Gallery at 36 Market St. “Warren: A Point of View,” is a production of Imago Foundation for the Arts and the Warren Preservation Society. Using interviews with long-time residents, artifacts carefully collected over the past year, maps, photography and original artwork by today’s Warrenites, the exhibit has been more than a year in the making.

“It’s something that we always talked about doing,” said Kristin MacDonald, who helped develop the exhibition through her volunteer work with the preservation society. Also playing instrumental roles were Doug Hinman, Helen Hawkins, Nathan Arndt and others.

“I’m just really proud that we put this together. This isn’t just the historic district; it’s looking at the history of the entire town through people’s experiences. They’re making history very real,” added Jill Culora, who also helped organize the exhibit.

Nine voices

Volunteers started spreading a word more than a year ago that they were looking for members of the town’s so-called “Silent Generation” — those born between 1925 and 1942 — to interview. They received a hearty response, and ended up meeting with nine residents who had many different perspectives on Warren in the old days.

Robert J. Barry was a top notch baseball player and supporter in the days when the old game was king in Warren. Judith Davidson had vivid memories of growing up on Washington Street. Madeline Ernest, one of the first television models in the state, talked about early TV in town and the changes it wrought. Mr. Mikulski, who was interviewed last year but passed away in January, spoke not only of the town’s Speak-Easys but also of his days as a police officer; he loaned some of his old hats and badges for the exhibit.

Pat Reed, still active in town, spoke about what it was like to grow up on Child Street mid-century, and Jennie Proto, who also passed away this past year, spoke fondly of her 52 years working at the SE Raines handkerchief factory. 

Tony DaPonte, whose family owned a furniture, talked about the store and also early road races he helped organize in town. Finally, Don Primiano talked about the arts in town, and life back then.

It took volunteers many hours to whittle down the interviews, but it was worth it, Ms. Culora said.

“We discovered that although they were all very different people, they were all hard-working and they all had this same character,” she said. “They were all humble; they did what they had to do.”

While many preservation society exhibits focus on the historic parts of town, organizers of “Warren: A Point of View” sought to paint a broader portrait of the town. The exhibit is broken into themes including work, play, home life, civic/community and business. In the end, Ms. Culora said she hopes residents from every corner of town will find something of interest.

“We’re hoping that people will be able to connect with this on many different levels.”

Warren: A Point of view

"Warren: A Point of View," starts this coming Thursday, Nov. 14, at noon at the Imago Gallery at 36 Market St. An opening reception runs from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15, at the gallery. Following the reception, regular exhibit hours are Thursday through Saturday, noon to 8 p.m., and Sundays noon to 4 p.m., through Dec. 22.

Apart from videotaped interviews, photography and artifacts that tell the Silent Generation’s story, there will also be interpretive artwork by Tom Culora, Candis Dixon, Charlie Francis, Kathy Kittell, Don Primiano, Eileen Collins, Mary Dondero, Lisa Legato, Eileen Mayhew, Linda Megathlin and Lenny Rumpler.

For more information, visit www.preservewarren.org or imagofoundation4art.org.


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.