The General Henry Knox Museum has seen its share of photo shoots, as befits any museum containing rare artifacts and antiques. But on a sunny, blustery mid-winter day, the Federal-style mansion overlooking Thomaston was filled with photographers seeking to capture its lesser-remarked charms.

Led by Camden photographer Tillman Crane, the group reveled more in the light and shadows than the furnishings and décor, much of which was draped with protective dust cloths. They represented a range of photographic media, from digital to pinhole, and their interactions reflected their longtime acquaintance.

Crane’s approach spanned centuries, as he used his iPhone to time exposures taken with his handmade field camera, custom constructed to daguerreotype-age specs.

“They called them banquet cameras; the image is tall, 5-by-12 inches, and they would pose groups of people on risers for pictures,” he said from his spot in the doorway of Montpelier’s second-floor Oval Room.

Crane said his camera weighs about 25 pounds, as does the tripod, and he has some 50 pounds of lenses to cart around. By contrast, Judy O’Dell, who was appointed chairwoman of the board of Maine Media Workshops + College in December, was working with a simple pinhole camera, just sitting it on a couple of boxes on a table to stabilize it for a shot.

Around the corner, in one of Montpelier’s period bedrooms, there was no need to tread carefully around Jim Nickelson of Camden, who was focusing his digital camera’s lens on the mantelpiece. Richard and Ruth Barnett, who have studied with Crane and live within the former borders of General Henry Knox’s original Thomaston estate, were conferring on an under-the-canopy vantage point, while David Rose also explored the room’s possibilities.

Meanwhile, on the second-story landing, Dorothea Eiben of Mount Desert Island and David Puig of Massachusetts were intrigued by the spiral staircase. And downstairs in the kitchen, Vivien Goldman, who had weathered the Presidents Day Weekend storm to get to the Midcoast from Massachusetts, patiently gathered the filtered light into large-format still lifes. It was shadowy in the kitchen; not so on the upper levels.

“In the 18th century, they designed houses with big windows to take advantage of available light,” said Crane.

A selection of the images taken this day will be exhibited this season in the museum’s downstairs exhibition room. The photographic safari came about after museum curator Matt Hansbury and Crane got talking about the mansion, an early 20th-century replica of the stately home built, a bit farther into town, by Revolutionary War general and subsequent Secretary of War Henry Knox in the 1790s.

“We were kicking around ideas and I said, gee, I’d like to photograph in here,” said Crane.

Hansbury responded by asking the Camden photographer and teacher if he’d like to have a show at Montpelier this spring. Crane, whose painstaking dedication to large format photography and the platinum printing process is integral to his work, said the time was far too tight …but there might be another way to produce a show for this season.

Crane invited eight other photographers to join him in exploring the mansion, not in a documenting-the-collection sense but as a unique space. Which is not to say Hansbury does not have high hopes about using some of the results to promote the museum, online and in publications.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing what they find, with a different eye,” he said.

Crane said the group’s range of technology and approach should ensure the difference Hansbury is looking for.

“Even if we end up with eight photos of the same door, they will be completely different,” he said.

The photographers were given carte blanche to shoot whatever they liked and to select their images for the upcoming show just as freely.

“They’re all excellent photographers. We’ve worked together in workshops and classes over the years,” said Crane.

Hansbury said he wishes there were track lighting in the exhibition room, but thinks the images — some color, others black and white; from sheet film and digital media — will prove a highlight of the upcoming season. There will be an opening reception for “Tillman Crane & Friends” in early June.

“There will be such a variety in look and feel! Everyone works in a different palette. And the space is so unusual. I think that’s why everybody jumped onboard so quickly,” said Crane.

The museum will re-open for the season Memorial Day weekend. For more information, visit

Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at (207) 594-4401, ext. 115 or