The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 15, 2009


Photographer captures Wild West in Gleason Show

A portrait photographer usually takes pictures of people. Pam Ziehler takes a different approach. In her portrait of the Wild West now on display at the Gleason Library, she presents the region through photographs of Native Americans, wildlife and landscapes.

Native American photos on exhibit now at the Gleason Public Library. (Photo by Beth Clarke)

“It’s just a passion,” says Ziehler. “And it’s my roots and I love it.” Her maternal grandfather was a Choctaw Indian, and she finds inspiration in her background. “I guess you could call me a photographer of the American West, because that’s what I am.” You might remember Ziehler from a group show for emerging artists two years ago at Gleason Library when she displayed her photographs of wild mustangs taken during her first family trip out West.

Ziehler, an Acton Street resident, grew up in Concord where she first became interested in photography when taking a class at the Emerson Umbrella. She attended Concord-Carlisle High School as did her husband, David, who currently works as a firefighter in Sudbury. Her daughter, Valerie, currently a fifth-grade student at the Carlisle Public School, shares her mother’s interest in their Native American heritage.

“My daughter dances in local pow-wows,” says Ziehler. “So she collects the Native American artifacts so that’s what you see displayed in the case [on the second-floor landing of the library].” Ziehler has also selected some books about the native peoples for the display as suggested reading.

Emerging as an artist

After graduating from high school, Ziehler went on to study fashion merchandising at Becker Junior College in Worcester. She has always loved animals and nature, and ended up volunteering at Mass Audubon for five years. Currently she works as a preschool teacher at Building Blocks in Acton.

Three years ago her family made their first trip “out west” to South Dakota. Ziehler took lots of pictures with a digital camera, and when she came back – encouraged by family and friends – she decided to try her hand at displaying them. She sold her first photograph (three, in fact) from the Gleason Library. Proceeds went to the preservation of wild mustangs out west . . . as they will from this show. She entered in an agreement with the Silver Buffalo Gallery in Berlin, Massachusetts, where her photographs are sold today. Ziehler’s landscape photographs from the Badlands are also on display in the oncology department of Emerson Hospital where her son Dana, 28, underwent successful treatment two years ago.

“I’m a self-taught photographer,” admits Ziehler. Aside from her early start at the Emerson Umbrella, she hasn’t found the time for classes.

On a trip to Montana last year, she happened to attend a re-enactment of the Battle of Little Horn. This time she had an SLR camera. She decided to “incorporate my pictures with my background: and “try to do a portrait of Native American instead of just Custer’s side of it.” She captured a chief and warriors performing in the show. As part of her trip photographs, she couldn’t resist beautiful landscapes at Yellowstone and wild animals like a black bear. As a result, her lens captured a portrait not only of Native Americans but of the environment in which they live. By selecting a “sepia tone” when having the photographs produced, she lent an Old West feel to some of the photographs.

Now that Ziehler is back in Carlisle, she takes fewer photographs, and those – like most moms in Carlisle – are of her daughter growing up. Ziehler is back at work at the preschool, but still finds time to volunteer and support causes – she notes the Many Nations Trading Post on Main Street in Concord is conducting a clothing drive for the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. She explained that Pine Ridge is one of the poorest reservations in the United States. With the current interest in the native peoples, sparked by the recent American Experience series about native people on public television, Ziehler hopes that townspeople will take time to drop off gently-used clothes for needy children and adults at the Concord store.

Ziehler does look ahead to when she’ll take her next slew of professional photographs on a trip out west when she hopes to travel to Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona. “It’s almost like a director – when’s the next movie – or an author – when’s the next book coming out?” she asks. Speaking for herself, she modestly adds, “I can’t wait.” Based on the exhibit at the Gleason on view until July 4, others will probably just as eagerly await her next show, tentatively scheduled for the summer of 2011.

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito