NATURAL BEAUTY: Massillon Museum exhibits beloved photographs

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Nature’s most majestic colors shine in simplicity.


There is great beauty in the palette of grays that comprise black-and-white photography. Few adequately capture the beauty of nature in color’s most basic terms, but Ansel Adams mastered that art.


“I am very proud of him and what he accomplished in his lifetime. I feel that his photography is timeless,” Dr. Michael Adams said of his father’s work. “Although he always said that he never went out to photograph specifically for environmental projects, his work was widely utilized by the environmental movement. In fact, he is well-known as an environmentalist.”


“Fragile Waters,” a traveling photography exhibition developed by Michael Adams’ wife, Jeanne Falk Adams, will open at the Massillon Museum on Saturday and continue through September 14. It features black-and-white images taken by Ansel Adams and two other renowned photographers and environmentalists – Ernest H. Brooks II and Dorothy Kerper Monnelly.


Massillon is one of only five sites nationwide to host the display.


The traveling exhibition of 117 photographs, many not previously exhibited, takes viewers from the snow-melt of the High Sierras to far below the Pacific Ocean. All three artists have spent their lives near an ocean and each uses a strong “integrity of place” to protect the sanctity of the environment through the universal language of black-and-white photography.


Monnelly creates large-format gelatin silver photographs to express the unique beauty of the Great Marsh in Massachusetts. With a background in philosophy and ethics, she took up her camera to express a respect for the natural environment.


Monnelly’s career began when she received her first Brownie Reflex camera as a child. She remembers developing her personal photographic style along with the photos she created in her father’s darkroom. He was a radiologist and the darkroom was located at a tuberculosis hospital.


Having the Great Marsh as a natural neighbor, however, has provided Monnelly her greatest inspiration.


“I’m surrounded by the marsh, so I as an artist, I am always looking at the light or a misty morning,” Monnelly said. “And I will drop everything (to get the right photo).”


Brooks –  a photographer, adventurer, diver, and educator – carries on the work of his father, the founder of the internationally renowned Brooks Institute of Photography. A trailblazer in the development of underwater photographic equipment and technique, his photography depicts the waters beneath the polar icecaps and nearly every ocean.


Michael Adams said he hopes visitors to the exhibit will not only enjoy the photography, but come away with “a better understanding of the importance of water in our lives.”


“This is more important each year as we experience global warming and droughts,” Michael Adams said.


“The exhibit covers water in several forms, from the highest mountains, the marsh lands and under the sea. Three very different perspectives from very talented photographers”


When Ansel Adams  first visited Yosemite National Park in 1916, he was transformed by its beauty. A decade later, he made his first fully visualized photograph, “Monolith, the Face of Half Dome.”


His technical mastery was legendary; his activism for the cause of wilderness and the environment was relentless. Ansel Adams fought against over-development of the national parks and highways; he advocated for new parks and wilderness areas, clean air and water, and balanced and restrained use of resources.


“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera,” Ansel Adams once said. “You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”


Monnelly has adored Ansel Adams’ work and she calls it an honor to display her photographs with his. What connects the three artists in the exhibit, however, goes beyond the images they captured.


“I think what drives all three of us is love,” Monnelly said. “I think we all intensely love the earth and if our images can spark that feeling, that’s the beginning of waking up and being more thoughtful.”


Falk Adams, the former CEO of The Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite National Park, said she believes that black-and-white photography can do just that. It can alert, inspire, communicate and motivate.


“(Ansel Adams’) black-and-white photographs are very popular today even in a world that expects to see color photography,” Michael Adams said of his father’s selected works. “His art is unquestionably unique and, I think, the exhibit displays it. His work is also an educational tool. This exhibit displays that aspect, too.”


Massillon Museum Executive Director Alexandra Coon called “Fragile Waters” a “visually inspiring presentation of the power and beauty of water.” She hopes to tap the raw power of those images to bring awareness to the natural resources throughout Stark County.


“We have chosen to create educational programming that celebrates local treasures like the Tuscarawas River and Jackson Bog to call our community to action,” Coon said. “We need to collectively protect and conserve these precious resources for our use and future use.”


“Fragile Waters” opens Saturday. It may be seen during regular Museum hours –  9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. The museum is closed on Mondays and will be closed on July 4.


A panel discussion with “Fragile Waters” contributors Monnelly, Brooks and Falk Adams is scheduled for 12:30 to 2 p.m. Sunday at Massillon Washington High School, One Paul E. Brown Drive SE.  The event is free and no reservations are required. For more information, visit or call 330-833-4061.

Throughout the summer, the museum will host a slate of special programming and classes that help to expand the impact of the “Fragile Waters” exhibit. Information about those events are available online at

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