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New JFK Exhibit In Brattleboro Offers A Civilized Portrait Of Presidential Politics

Mark Shaw
John, Jackie and Caroline Kennedy in Georgetown. Photos of the Kennedys by Mark Shaw, the unofficial family photographer, are on display at the Dianich Gallery in Brattleboro.

If the vulgar presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump has you pining for simpler times, a new photo exhibit on the John F. Kennedy presidency might be just the medicine to help make it through to Election Day.

The photos taken of JFK by photographer Mark Shaw have long been housed in Vermont, they're now on display at the Dianich Gallery in Brattleboro.

Shaw took photos for Life Magazine, and he also became the unofficial family photographer for Jacqueline and John F. Kennedy.

Catherine Dianich Gruver, who owns the gallery, says the photos of a family relaxing and interacting give us hope in such troubled times.

"These pictures represent a sense of idealism and optimism, she says. "And for me, and for a lot of people in the country today, I think that sense of idealism and optimism is missing."

Shaw's son lives in Dummerston and he manages the Mark Shaw Photographic Archive of his deceased father, which includes hundreds of shots of the former first family.

Gruver knew about the treasure trove of images that were stored just up the road, but whenever she tried to schedule a show the photos were already hanging in other galleries around the world.

Just about a month ago, when she was especially troubled in the direction of the 2016 race, she reached out to bring the photos to her gallery.

To her surprise, the photos were available. And now they'll be displayed in the southern Vermont gallery right up until the embarrassing race between Clinton and Trump comes to a merciful end.

"Right now, in our political season, we're pretty far afield from Camelot," Dianich Gruver says. "I felt like these pictures served as a reminder, for people coming in, of what was, and what the possibilities are."

Mark Shaw first photographed the Kennedys in 1959, when JFK was running for president.

"These pictures represent a sense of idealism and optimism. And for me, and for a lot of people in the country today, I think that sense of idealism and optimism is missing." - Catherine Dianich Gruver, Dianich Gallery owner

Up to that point Shaw, photographed had celebrities and artists, and he specialized in documenting the international fashion scene.

Juliet Cuming Shaw is the photographer’s daughter-in-law and the director of the archive. She says when Shaw was sent to photograph the handsome presidential candidate and his glamorous wife, a tight connection was forged that lasted for years.

"Mark was the guy who used to cover the Parisian collection for Life Magazine, so for her [Jacqueline Kennedy], being photographed by Mark Shaw would have been a great honor," Cuming Shaw says. "Mark and Jackie had a friendship that continued even after JFK was assassinated."

Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
Jacqueline Kennedy and photographer Mark Shaw had an enduring friendship, according to Juliet Cuming Shaw, the photographer's daughter-in-law and the director of the archive.

Some of the photos now hanging in Brattleboro have rarely been seen.

There's a photo of Jackie smoking a cigarette that was not allowed to be shown back when the photo was first taken.

Others are iconic images of the Kennedys walking in Hyannis Port, relaxing in Georgetown, or later, posing, as President and First Lady, at The White House.

Cuming Shaw says the photographs tell a complete story of a young couple first vying for the Democratic nomination, right up until the tragic trip to Dallas in November, 1963.

"It shows a journey," she says. "It shows a young senator and his young pretty wife going through the process of becoming the president. Mark took a lot of different images, he did the formal photos and he did the very poignant family photos that created the myth of Camelot."

Shaw's photos of were taken at a time before the 24-hour news cycle, when glossy magazines were the only connection a lot of people had to a world beyond their own town lines.

And in many ways, Shaw's images played a big role in our enduring understanding and perception of the Kennedy story.

Revelations that have now come out about the Kennedy marriage might have been exposed in our Twitter-happy society, where secrets are revealed with haste and malice.

But looking back now on those four years, through the eyes of Mark Shaw, you can almost see beyond the leaked tapes and deleted emails that have poisoned the current presidential race.

The exhibit is at the Dianich Gallery, in Brattleboro, where it will hang until the end of December.

Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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