ESPERANCE — The detailed, multi-media exhibit, “After the Storms: 10 years and 36,000+ Volunteers Later,” will open at Schoharie River Center’s Cultural Hall in Esperance on Saturday during a reception from 2-4 p.m. The traveling exhibit — nearly a decade in the making — will be on view each weekend through September before moving on to other venues.
SALT and the Zadock Pratt Museum, in collaboration with New York Folklore, captured approximately 65 narratives of Schoharie Creek-area residents who were either personally affected by tropical storms Irene and Lee, or volunteered to assist with the region’s recovery.
Executive Director of New York Folklore Ellen McHale and Consulting Scholar Lillian Spina-Caza began curating “After the Storms” in 2013. Spina-Caza didn’t just experience Irene and Lee vicariously through the documentation process, she lived through it. Her Main Street Schoharie home was destroyed during the Aug. 28, 2011 flooding.
In 2014, Spina-Caza, NY Folklore, and students from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hosted a day of service on Martin Luther King Day in Schoharie County, where stories were collected from flood survivors and remediation volunteers.
“The project really kicked off way back then,” said Spina-Caza of the initial interviews that eventually became part of the exhibit. Spina-Caza noted that as an educator at RPI, she also led her students in a grant-writing activity that helped secure Humanities NY funding aimed at creating the traveling multi-media exhibit.
“I took that grant and I wrote a more extensive grant on the idea of a traveling museum exhibit that would go throughout Schoharie County and into Greene County,” Spina-Caza said. The exhibit “was something I wanted to see happen to commemorate volunteerism during Irene and Lee and after — long term,” she said.
After interviewing at least 65 people, “the amount of material we had was pretty incredible,” said McHale. Funding provided by a NY Humanities Visioning grant assisted with the assembly of a team, the goal of which was to comb through interviews, “to pick out kernels of information we felt were exhibition material,” said McHale.
“We had a number of people who were sorting and culling through information,” including “home videos galore and tons of newspaper clippings,” McHale explained.
The most compelling part of the entire process for McHale was viewing the recorded interviews. She said of the new experience: “I, as a folklorist, don’t usually work with video.” McHale said she is more well-versed in audio, with Spina-Caza being the project’s video expert.
McHale said she and Spina-Caza “complemented each other” during the documentation process. “It’s the narrative and the stories that are coming out and the opportunities to hear peoples’ real voices that I found most enjoyable, McHales said. “Most of them are pretty poignant.”
The result was a 70-minute exhibition loop that includes news clips, a storyteller and a music video.
Spina-Caza said that while it was a challenge hearing and viewing survival accounts from a storm she personally weathered, the experience brought perspective. “It made me feel like we were not alone,” she said of herself and the flood survivors documented in “After the Storms.” “You don’t feel as alone once you listen to it all,” she said of the extensive material collected.
The extent of the damage brought by Irene and Lee proved eye opening for McHale, who stated, “I don’t think the range of experience, geographically, was something I was honed into so much,” before taking on this project.
“The commonality of the experience” — even across separate, distinct communities — provided a fascinating narrative from first interview to completed exhibition, McHale said.
While Spina-Caza said the worst parts of Irene and Lee “came and went” — testing the fortitude of the people it affected — she and the many Schoharie Watershed-adjacent residents who chose to remain still adore their hardy home.
“It’s a wonderful community,” she said.
Spina-Caza hopes that people will take away a message of strength and community from “After the Storms.” “I hope that people find value in remembering how resilient we had to be in a time that was chaotic.”
Following its stay at the Schoharie River Center’s Cultural Hall, 2047 Burtonville Road, Esperance, the exhibit will relocate to the Zadock Pratt Museum, 14540 Main St., Prattsville. It will remain there through October, then move to the the New York Power Authority, 1378 NY-30, Blenheim, from November through March.
On May 1, 2022, the exhibit will open again in the Badgley Museum Annex of the Old Stone Fort Museum, 145 Fort Road, Schoharie.
“After the Storms: 10 Years and 36,000+ Volunteers Later” is funded through grants from Humanities New York, Fenimore Asset Management, Midtel, Stewart’s Shops, the Documentary Heritage Program of the New York State Archives, and the New York State Council on the Arts. It has received partnership support from the Schoharie Historical Society/Old Stone Fort Museum, the Zadock Pratt Museum, the Schoharie River Center, and the New York Power Authority.