Down East 2013 ©
Photograph Dyer Library and Saco Museum
Let no one say that Maine women aren’t modern or fashionable. That might have been a mantra for photographer Charles E. Moody, whose images of Biddeford and Saco are some of the most striking of any photographs made in turn-of-the-century Maine. Though Moody left the area in his teens to work in a variety of jobs in Newark, New Jersey, whenever he came back to his hometown of Saco he lugged back a few boxes of unexposed glass-plate negatives with him. It was on one such visit, probably about 1906, that he captured his sister-in-law, Emma May Wight Moody, venturing out on snowshoes. The forty-five-year-old wife of Frederick Shaw Moody, Emma was one of Charles’ favorite subjects, appearing in many images.
Though Emma’s smile appears genuine, scenes likes this one were hardly candid affairs. Emma’s clothing is actually a bold statement: Her loose, knitted sweater likely indicates she has shed the corset that was considered an indispensable part of a woman’s wardrobe up through the nineteenth century, and the higher hem of her skirt declares that she is an active, sporting woman of the new century. Even her snowshoes are an expression of her acceptance of the many cultures that comprise the cities on the Saco, as the wood-and-leather contraptions were first popularized in Maine by the French-Canadian “raquetteurs” who came to work in the Biddeford and Saco mills. Yet Moody has juxtaposed his sister-in-law’s simple skirt, sweater, and gloves with her elaborate turban-style hat, its fur brim and tall peacock feathers announcing Emma as a woman who takes her fashion sense seriously, even when playing outdoors.
Moody, who died a bachelor in 1915, used his photographs to evoke the work of more famous pictorialists like Alfred Stieglitz, as well as painters like George Bellows, Robert Henri, and other members of the Ashcan School of art. Whether capturing a group of boys jumping into the Saco River or author Kate Douglas Wiggin posed at a water well, this Maine-born artist, whose work will be on display at the Dyer Library and Saco Museum from January 15 to February 24, managed to transform a series of pleasant scenes like this one into a recording of the momentous social changes that were taking place in both Maine and beyond at the turn of the century.