Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Slayton: Miller's People

In the faces of Vermonters themselves, photographer Peter Miller has chronicled the profound changes that have come to Vermont in the last half-century. Those faces – and those changes – are the subject of his most recent book of photographs and essays, entitled A Lifetime of Vermont People.

This is no ordinary coffee-table book. Miller’s black-and-white photographs are gritty, often stark. They go beyond simple prettiness to probe the souls of the people who have lived through Vermont’s changes, and, in the process, the soul of Vermont itself.

They are mostly portraits of Vermonters that Miller has found interesting, ranging from Art Johnson of Weston, a horse driver, and trash pick-up man, photographed in 1950, and now deceased, to former Gov. Howard Dean, who is, as Miller’s photos of the governor skiing clearly document, still very much alive.

Peter Miller clearly mourns the passing of the older, more rural Vermont memorialized in his earlier photographs. But there are new photos also, in this new book. And what those more recent photos suggest is that Vermonters are still a most interesting breed, and Vermont remains, to some extent, a place apart.

The first portraits Miller took were of Will and Rowena Austin, a retired farming couple who lived in Weston. Only memories and Miller’s haunting photographs remain of them.

Standing outdoors with fresh falling snow on their shoulders, their faces as weathered as the barn behind them, Will and Rowena in 1959 look like stubborn transplants from the 19th century. They seem indomitable. But their way of life is now gone forever.

Nevertheless, something of their spirit remains, and can be seen in Miller’s portraits of the Lepine sisters of Morrisville, Stub Earl of Eden, auctioneer Willis Hicks of Stowe, and others. That spirit flourishes also in the younger farmers and entrepeneurs Miller includes in this new book: Pete Johnson of Craftsbury, George Woodard of Waterbury Center, Jay and Janet Bailey of Fairwinds Farm in Brattleboro, Diane St. Clair of Orwell among them.

Vermont is changing and farming is changing, as each of these portraits show. But the land still produces food, and crops, and families.

Notably, several contemporary artists are portrayed by Miller: Bread and Puppeteers Peter and Elke Schumann, artist Warren Kimble of Brandon, poet David Budbill, novelist Howard Frank Mosher. The message is implicit but clear: these are Vermonters, too, wresting their living in their own way from this rugged northern place.

Peter Miller, who made the most memorable photograph of farmer and movie star Fred Tuttle, saw Fred’s funeral as the closing of an era in Vermont – a goodbye to the traditional, backroads Vermont that many of us knew and loved.

His new book, A Lifetime of Vermont People is a loving memorial to that world – but also offers hope -- implicitly, without saying so -- that the strong spirit that enlivened that older Vermont survives and may yet flourish in the Vermont to come.

Tom Slayton is a longtime journalist, editor and author who lives in Montpelier.
Latest Stories