In the Nolensville Historic School Thursday night, the photographs lining the walls looked right at home.
The old, overgrown milk barn, the stark and simple steeple of a country church, the squat but sturdy looking log cabin — they were from the same world that the historical classroom was from. While the classroom, though, had been saved and restored by dedicated volunteers of the Nolensville Historical Society, the aging structures and natural scenes in the photographs had been preserved for posterity by Sue Henry’s camera lens.
Henry is a transplant from Kentucky who has lived in Nolensville for the past seven years. When she came to Tennessee she developed a passion for the history of her new home. Sixteen of her works that sprung from that passion are currently exhibited as “A Quiet Celebration of Rural Nolensville” at the Nolensville Historic School. An opening reception was held Thursday night at the school, and the works will continue to be on display each Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. until March 4, when a closing reception will take place.
Henry has a purpose in her work. She’s not just taking pretty pictures. She sees photography as a way to connect people with the past. And Henry thinks that is an important connection to establish, especially in a developing city like Nolensville.
“Nolensville’s changing and growing, and a lot of the old farms are being sold off and turned into subdivisions,” she said. “It’s my personal feeling that once they’re gone, they’re gone.”
With her camera, Henry tries to keep those old farms and other monuments to rural history alive—to keep them real.
“I’m trying to hold on to those memories through these images,” she said.
Henry first got into photography when she was still a middle school music teacher with a teenage son. She saw photography as a way that the two of them could bond. As it worked out, she said she was blessed with the technical skill, while her son had the eye for art.
“Between the two of us we just had the best time,” she said.
When she retired from teaching in 1999, the “photography bug” really bit her, and she has been passionately practicing her craft ever since.
The genesis of her current show came last year when she submitted a group of photographs to the SlowExposures juried exhibition in Georgia. A juror helped her whittle her submissions down to 16 photographs, which were displayed as part of the Slow Exposures PopUp Tour of exhibitions. When she got a chance to feature that curated group of photographs at the historic school, she was elated.
“It has been my dream to bring that exhibit her to the people of Nolensville because all the images were made in Nolensville and the surrounding area,” she said.
One lifelong Nolensville resident who played a part in Henry’s work was on hand at the opening. Pete Mosley, 72, is a dairy farmer and the unofficial “tour guide” who showed Henry around to many of the historic buildings in the area.
“I was born and raised here so I know the back roads and the country roads and where the old houses were,” he said.
Mosley, sporting a “Tennessee Crossroads” hat, was proud of the work Henry had done to capture elements of Nolensville’s history. He was also glad that the exhibit was bringing visitors to the historic school, which he had a hand in restoring.
“I think it’s super,” he said of the event.
Nolensville Historical Society volunteer Sharon Zieman appreciated the service Henry’s work was doing for Nolensville’s history, but she also highlighted something else: the universality of its message. As she saw it, the power of Henry’s photographs could resonate with anyone.
“It’s marvelous because this is part of documenting the history of Nolensville. We’re losing so much so quickly,” Zieman said. “It reveals the history of the town, and people can relate to it no matter where they’re from.”
Perhaps that is because, as universal as themes of age and memory are, the works are very much a product of Henry’s own perspective. Anyone could go out and take pictures of old buildings, but not anyone could come up with photographs like Henry’s. As Henry sees it, her photographs come from an intermingling of her various interests as a music teacher, as an art-lover and as someone who cares deeply about history.
“I taught music, so history is a big part of music,” she said. “It all runs hand in hand, the music, the art, the history. They’re very much related.”
Matted prints of Henry’s photographs are available for purchase at the exhibition.