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1962: Liz (Stoutner) Laurence the fashionable photographer

Sepia Saturday 393: Tenth in a series on piecing together the origins of my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence’s fashion sense.

Perfectly dressed for a picture or a picnic (1962). My fashionable maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence — in a crisp tailored dress, pumps, patterned apron and jewelry –adjusts her camera at an outdoor family picnic. Scan by Molly Charboneau

I am proud to descend from a long line of remarkable women. Among them was my maternal grandmother Liz (Stoutner) Laurence — who at age 57 decided to take up photography.

Until I was six years old, my family — Mom, Dad, two younger brothers and me — lived with my maternal grandparents in a large farmhouse called Whispering Chimneys in Altamont, Albany Co., New York.

When we first moved there, my grandmother Liz operated an antique shop down near Route 20, the busy highway that ran past our 10-acre farm. She also helped my mother out with us children.

A new midlife journey

But in the mid-1950s we relocated to the suburbs of Binghamton, N.Y., after my dad got a job transfer. Around the same time, my mom’s only sibling Aunt Rita made a similar career move to San Diego, Calif.

With her children getting on with their lives, Liz may have been at loose ends in the big farmhouse. She learned, and later taught, Early American Tole Painting in her studio at the farm — and created pieces for sale as gifts for weddings and other occasions.

Photo Class (Sept. 1963). At age 57, my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence decided to take up photography — an unusual pursuit for a woman judging by this picture of her in photo class. Scan by Molly Charboneau

However, Liz apparently wanted an additional creative outlet — because at midlife she enrolled in photography classes. And from the looks of her class, this was an unusual pursuit for women at the time.

Moving with the times

The Kodak Instamatic camera was introduced in 1962, and I remember having one of those little cameras as a teenager. But my grandmother set her sights on more sophisticated photo taking.

Liz started with an SLR and later used a square format camera that required looking down through the lens from the top. With these she took umpteen family and still-life photos using color slide film to perfect her craft. Slides became her metier and I inherited several boxes of her work.

Naturally, Liz kept up appearances with crisp, tailored clothing — as shown here — whether in class or hosting a family picnic at the farm. In fact, she may have viewed her clothing as another form of artist expression — one she had cultivated since childhood that complemented the other art forms she learned as an adult.

Up next: My maternal grandmother in a dress to die for as mother of the bride at my parents’ wedding. Meanwhile, please visit the posts of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

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