My Favourite Artifact: Lurenda Henry Portrait

By Jennifer Pandelidis, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

When I asked to pick my favourite artifact, I was a bit stumped on what to write about. So I thought back to my first days here at the Museum and what stood out to me was the picture of Lurenda sitting on the wall in the Study of Henry House.

70-L-140 - Lurenda Henry
70-L-140 – Lurenda Henry

When I came to Museum for my first training session, Jill (Visitor Experience Coordinator, currently on Maternity Leave) took all us new guides on a tour. The image of Lurenda, for obvious reasons, stayed in my mind and when I went home that night closed my eyes to go to sleep, of course, this is the image that stayed with me.

After too many tours to count and much time spent in Henry House I have come to realize that I am no longer frightened of this image, but instead kind of like it.

Henry House Study
Henry House Study

The first reason why I chose this artifact is that every person you take on tour has a reaction of this image. It’s unique in that it is almost always a piece for conversation. Many people comment on her expression and appearance rather harshly or negatively, and I now find myself defending her and defending her appearance. I tell people “she was actually considered very a nice person” or “photography methods were quite different, people didn’t smile.”

This brings me to my second point, which is the whole picture side of it all. For myself and my generation, our lives are shared and capture through photos. On my Facebook alone I have 270+ pictures of myself and this doesn’t account for the dozens of baby photos, toddler, birthday party, pre-teen, graduation, prom and school prints that are stashed away somewhere in my parents closet. The hundreds of photos that have been taken of me over my twenty something years on earth, I think help to paint to a small picture of what kind of life I have had, who my friends are, what my hobbies are and so on. I also get a lot of choice in what images are out there of me. I can’t tell you the amount of times I have untagged myself from an unflattering photo that appeared on Facebook. Then I think back to Lurenda’s time, where one photo could take upwards to 30 minutes capture, where you had stand in the same position, holding a pose for that length of time. Sometimes you wonder, would the photographer have always captured your best angle? And of course a selfie was not yet a thing… I also think of the 5 or so images of Lurenda that exist that we look at and try to piece together elements of life from. Of course, I have had a few questionable haircuts in my lifetime and have selected numerous outfits that I would later go on to regret and I can’t help to think what if just one of those photos was framed and put on the wall and in 100 or so years visitors came and looked at that image. What kind of reaction would they have?

For myself I think this artifact is ultimately my favourite because it is a perfect example of not judging a book by its cover, which is very important in this field!

Ambrotype of Lurenda Henry
Ambrotype of Lurenda Henry

What we do know about Lurenda is that she had a good relationship with her step children and that she was kind hearted. We also know that later in life Lurenda struggled with mobility issues. Correspondence that has been collected has also helped to better understand what kind of lady she really was.

If you haven’t already come to visit Henry House and seen Lurenda’s picture I recommend it!

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