WATERVILLE — John Picher was surprised when a few weeks ago he saw a posting on Facebook asking whether anyone was related to a Gedeon Picher.

Gedeon Picher, a photographer and French Canadian immigrant to Waterville in the late 1800s, is John Picher’s grandfather.

“It was kind of a surprise, but it was very nice to be able to sit down and talk about our family and my grandfather’s photographs,” John Picher, 71, said of the Facebook post by Tanya Sheehan, an associate art professor at Colby College.

Picher and his wife, Bunnie, who live in Vassalboro, agreed to meet Sheehan for dinner to talk about some of Gedeon Picher’s photos, which Sheehan and a group of students had uncovered while researching Franco-American history in Waterville.

Several of the photos, some of which have been shared with the college by the Picher family and others that Sheehan and her students found on eBay, are now part of an exhibit on photography and migration at Colby’s Miller Library.

The exhibit, which opened Friday as part of a larger Photography and Migrations Conference, will be on display through the summer and is open to the public. It includes photos and other material from Colby’s special collections, the Waterville Historical Society and local families, such as the Pichers, to explore ways that photography has been used to document migration.

It is also part of a larger effort to preserve historical photos of Waterville through the Colby special collections, Sheehan said.

“This is a preliminary effort to forge a connection between what we do here on Mayflower Hill and in the community,” she said. “I think we’ve begun in a small way to reach out to the community and get people talking about migrations, and we’re hoping to continue that work through photography.”

Since January, Sheehan and a group of 11 students have been researching photography and its role in the movement of people and ideas. A smaller group of students in the class chose to look at Franco-American history in Waterville, and after searching through dozens of historical photos — many of which could not be traced back to a single photographer — they found Gedeon Picher, an immigrant from Saint-Lambert, Quebec, who came to New England in 1888 and established a photography studio on Water Street.

The area was known as “the Plains” at the time and was home to many French-speaking residents, many of whom posed for Picher in portraits.

Lydia Nicholson, one of the students who worked on the part of the exhibit featuring Picher’s work, said she was excited about meeting John Picher for the first time Friday.

“It was awesome,” she said. “That’s the cool thing about special collections. They’re made up of a lot of primary source materials, like the photos that come from the Pichers. It’s really, really cool.”

John and Bunnie Picher said they also were excited to meet with students and to share their family photos. There were also some images they had never seen that were stamped with Gedeon Picher’s name. John Picher said many of his grandfather’s photographs were stolen from the Water Street studio at one point and never recovered.

“The only thing I can think of is maybe they were some of these,” his wife said, gesturing to the three portraits the students had found on eBay.

“I think family photos are really important,” said Barrie Tovar, another student who worked on curating the Gedeon Picher portion of the exhibit. “You can really see the impact they have.”

Photography and Migration is open to the public and can be viewed from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at the college’s Miller Library.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm


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