February 22–June 22, 2025
Photographs by William Earle Williams
- Museum hours: Tues-Sun, 10am-4pm.
Land holds history. Some histories are better known than others, preserved by those who valued particular stories and wanted them remembered. What do we know about the land we live on? Who preceded us and what transpired? History books leave holes and silences along with assumptions that have been passed down for generations. This exhibition aims to fill some of the absences by sharing lesser-known stories about Connecticut and its connections to other regions that played a role in bringing people of color to the shores of the future United States. Art has the power to help us see, and to encourage us to imagine the presence of those who had no agency or opportunity to record their own histories.
Over the past forty years artist William Earle Williams (born 1950) has made sites of African American history more visible through his exquisite photographs. Mentored in the 1970s by the famed photographer Walker Evans, who had a home in Lyme, Williams attended the Yale School of Art at Evans’s suggestion. From that Connecticut inception, Williams embarked on a decades-long journey to identify and photograph places across the country that hold histories of the slave trade, the Underground Railroad, and emancipation. Many remain unmarked and largely overlooked in a society that has long ignored Black history. Williams returned to Connecticut in 2011 to visit the Florence Griswold Museum’s exhibition The Exacting Eye of Walker Evans. At that time, he made photographs of alleged sites of the Underground Railroad on Lyme Street.
More than a decade later, new archival research has yielded revelations about how we understand our local history. Williams and Associate Curator Jenny Parsons connected in 2021 when the Museum installed the first of three Witness Stones on its site, honoring the enslaved people who labored there before the Griswold family purchased the property.
As the 2023-25 Artist-in-Residence, Williams continues his journey in Connecticut, creating photographs that bring visibility and pay tribute to the unrecognized people who contributed to this society and its landscape. His evocative photographs help us see beyond our familiar conceptions of places we know so well, and to see them anew.
If landscapes could speak, what would they tell us?
Images: 1) William Earle Williams, Witness Stones at the Florence Griswold House and Museum, 2023. Courtesy of the artist; 2) William Earle Williams, Uncas’s Leap, Norwich, Connecticut, 2023. Courtesy of the artist; 3) William Earle Williams, Stairway, Prudence Crandall School, Canterbury, Connecticut, 2023. Courtesy of the artist