In 2004, I was working at the Salmon Brook Historical Society when a stranger with a camera walked into the Enders house. He asked if he could take some pictures and I said okay.
A little while later, we were talking about pictures and I mentioned that we had many glass plate negatives, which were difficult to print. This intrigued him and he offered to try to scan them into his computer. I reluctantly let him borrow one box after recording his name, address, phone number and almost demanding his first-born child as security.
That was my introduction to Peter Dinella and the beginning of a long and rewarding partnership with incredible benefits to the historical society.
Peter and Bert (Alberta) Dinella came from New Jersey to retire in Granby. They built a home in North Granby and soon generously gave their time and shared their talents with their new town. You could count on them to do what they said they would do.
Peter attended Town Meetings and listened, learned and later offered his opinions. And he started to photograph Granby. He joined the Land Trust and roamed through its properties recording the beauty of nature in all seasons. Every event held in Granby (Memorial Day Parade, Celebrate Granby, Open Farm Day, musters, Flea Market, Engine Show, Car Show, etc.) was documented by his pictures. He drove around town and photographed buildings, scenic views and animals. He captured the antics of the Hayes goats and told me they preferred classical music to rock.
The Granby Drummer has Peter Dinella pictures enhancing every issue. He encouraged using a double page spread of pictures for events like the Memorial Day Parade and graduation. He created the eye-catching panorama featured at the bottom of the front page.
The Dinellas also joined the Salmon Brook Historical Society and their contributions are legendary. Their volunteer work made permanent changes and improvements. We have probably doubled our collection of Granby photographs.
All of our many glass plate negatives were scanned, photo shopped if necessary and printed by Peter. He photographed the interior of our museum houses for an inventory. He kept a photographic record of the Preservation Barn construction. He gave the society many CDs with Granby pictures to add to our multi-media file.
Peter provided the illustrations for the monthly history articles I write for the Drummer, either copying an old photo or taking a new picture. He took pictures at all of our events, from school tours to the Wassail Party. He documented all of our museum buildings, especially after they were newly painted. Peter also added humorous titles to old photos or pictures of our volunteers, to decorate our bulletin board.
If someone lent the society a family album, Peter copied the old studio photographs for our files. He also copied pictures from some of the society photo albums. He was always thinking of new ways to take pictures and his multi-layer photo of the Granby Oak is a work of art.
He earned the title of “Wizard” when I would give him a faded or damaged or very dark old photo to work on. He enjoyed a challenge and the results were awesome. We had a c.1890 picture of the Green with one lawn tennis court and players. Peter used a variety of filters and magic with the final amazing result showing three lawn tennis courts and more players.
A visit to pick-up or return pictures always included a wide-ranging conversation about the town or the society or the state of the world. Peter particularly enjoyed getting to know our older volunteers, especially the late Seth Holcombe. One day he came in to find a group of men busily sorting Loomis Store invoices. He asked Seth what he was doing and Seth said, “I don’t know.” So Peter asked why he was doing it and Seth pointed at my office and announced, “Because SHE said so.”
Jean Potetz of textiles noted the time Peter took studio-style photographs of Polly Hall in her home for the 2007 reception the society gave in Polly Hall’s honor. He took many wonderful pictures of Polly with and without her quilts, and afterwards Jean and Peter shared some of Polly’s favorite sherry with her. It was a memorable time spent chatting with Granby’s Quilt Lady. Peter photographed the Hall Reception and all our quilt airings as well as the society’s quilt collection, a massive time-consuming undertaking requiring many steps up and down a ladder to get the perfect shot. When quilt book authors requested a photograph of one of our quilts for their books, it was Peter who took on the challenge, hanging over the third floor railing of the Preservation Barn in order to get the perfect overhead shot of the quilt laid out on tables below.
He also photographed illegible verses and signatures on quilts to help us decipher at least some of them, and improved some early photographs of long-passed Granby residents dressed in items now housed in our textile collection. He created poster-sized framed prints of our textile exhibits for the walls of our workroom. Working with Peter has always been enjoyable—all one has to do is ask and it’s done. His talent, skill and love of the art create exceptional photographs. He is truly The Wizard!
Bert Dinella was involved in many society activities, projects and programs. She helped to set up and price items for our two flea markets every year. She also added her expertise to the society gardens. In December, she was part of the crew who decorated the Rowe and Enders houses for the annual Christmas Wassail Party.
Bert was a member of the Tuesday Morning Volunteers who helped move our library collections from the crowded Enders house to the new Preservation Barn facility in 2007. The volunteers cleaned, sorted and organized old magazines, calendars, newspapers, autograph albums, diaries etc., and then stored them in acid free boxes.
In addition, the group created an obituary card file and added labels to our many files. Bert made most of the labels for the original documents in the archival files. The Tuesday Volunteers also talked and laughed a lot—but still accomplished much. When the library work was finished, Bert moved on to textiles.
Bert Dinella’s move to textiles couldn’t have pleased Jean Potetz more. Bert was an incredible addition to the textile volunteers. A long-time quilter and lover of old quilts, Bert vacuumed, folded and boxed numerous quilts and clothing items for preservation along with other textile volunteers. She worked at Polly Hall’s reception and handled numerous tasks at our quilt airings including researching and presenting quilts and their histories. Her decorating skills have enhanced our textile exhibits and she has helped write policy as part of the textile committee. But Jean said Bert’s biggest undertaking started the day the two were talking about one of the oldest quilts in the collection. Jean noted it would be nice if this beautiful but very fragile quilt could be reproduced so at least the reproduction could be exhibited. Bert agreed. When Jean asked, without thinking of all it required, if she’d like to organize that as a project, Bert agreed to take it on and reproduce the quilt as closely as possible to the original. Neither realized the enormity of what Jean had asked to be accomplished or of the task ahead.
After studying the quilt’s design closely, Bert asked Peter to photograph every block in the quilt and set about matching colors and fabrics over 175 years old as closely as possible to the original. After planning each block’s fabrics she cut out every block’s pieces, bagged them up into little kits and gave them to quilt makers eager to work on such an historical project, to stitch together. She sewed many blocks together herself. After all the completed blocks were assembled into rows, and the challenging borders added, the quilt top was then hand-quilted by quilters from the textile committee, including Bert. The Textile Workroom was filled with lively chatter while these women sat at the frame and quilted the reproduction quilt in the same pattern as the original. Years in the making, the quilt is now in its final stage of completion and will be exhibited along with the original soon. Jean cannot imagine how many hours Bert put into this project. It was an astronomical undertaking but Bert and her group of quilters accomplished it perfectly. The reproduction quilt is beautiful and gives one a true sense of the original. It is a remarkable achievement.
Jean says Bert’s knowledge of quilts, fabrics and clothing made her a valuable addition to the textile group and that Bert’s smile and sense of humor made working with her even more enjoyable. She misses her very much and commented that North Carolina gained themselves two shining jewels with Peter and Bert moving south to care for family.
It is rare to have relatively new residents have such an impact on their community. Granby was fortunate to have them, and the town, especially the Salmon Brook Historical Society, will miss their joyful and creative contributions. We wish them the best in their new home.