South Sangerville Grange no. 335. Photo by Michelle Hauser

Michelle Hauser of South Thomaston is exhibiting a selection of photographs from “Meeting Hall Maine” that records for posterity the documentation of hundreds of meeting halls found throughout the state. The exhibition will be on view at the Maine Jewish Museum, located at 267 Congress St., in Portland, through May 7.

This photographic exploration began in collaboration with Hauser’s late husband, Andrew S. Flamm (1967-2018). Hauser has continued on with their shared vision to adhere to centered compositions of frontal, side or back views and to sequence the typology of structures into groups. Grids and pairings invite comparison and also create an abstraction of architectural forms. At some sites three-quarter views of the halls were captured showing their relationship to other buildings in the landscape. The typologies mirror the clarity of a portrait, while the three-quarter perspectives evoke the experience of a particular place. The exhibition also includes work that appropriates signifiers used in ritual activities taking place inside the meeting halls. Together, these three formats offer the viewer a more complete photographic description: geographic location, historical and economic origins, symbolism, and present day condition and use.

This historic network of halls built primarily by volunteer societies: The Independent Order of Odd Fellows, The Free Masons, and The Patrons of Husbandry are active in Maine today in waning numbers, have shared goals to create nonpartisan and secular environments to foster solidarity among citizens across lines of class. They represent the collective power of local people banding together into groups to achieve shared interests. The exhibit aims to instill an appreciation and desire in others to preserve these structures as democratic forums for generations to come.

Images of these lone buildings also reflect our time. One that implores us to be physically distant and to refrain from large gatherings, yet, the photographs also telegraph our human need to build structures in order to unite people together.

In 1981, Hauser forged lasting ties to Maine at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, leading her to return to Maine to live and paint in a former Odd Fellows Hall in Mount Vernon. The hall served as an inspiration. Extending her studio time there was the catalyst for winning a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant. It was where she and Andrew Flamm first met. They went on to open Odd Fellows Art and Antiques that specialized in vernacular photography and the Material Culture of American Fraternal  Organizations which in turn sparked their idea for “Meeting Hall Maine.”

Museum hours are noon-4 p.m. Sunday through Friday.

For more information, visit MaineJewishMuseum.org or email Nanci Kahn, photography curator, at [email protected].

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