By James J. Allen
DEER ISLE-More than 65 years ago Fulton Weed sat in Deer Isle High School and listened to his future wife, Erma, compete in a speakers contest.
"I turned to my friend and said, 'I'm walking her home tonight,' and I did!" remembers Weed as his wife chuckles.
Erma eventually won the contest and became valedictorian of her class. Then she married Fulton and spent the next 65 years with him on Deer Isle.
The Weeds' life together, and those of two other Deer Isle couples, are part of an ongoing project by New York-based writer and artist Robert Fass.
The first local exhibition of the photographic project, titled "As Long As We Both Shall Live," will be at the Creative Photographic Art Center of Maine in Lewiston between June 15 and August 30. The opening reception will be held Saturday, June 15, from 5 to 7 p.m.
According to Fass, the project combines portraits of the couples with their own words "in an attempt to reflect the multitude of reasons couples choose to make a lifelong commitment to their marriage.''
"It's really a photo essay," the photographer said.
The project started in thesummer of 1997, when he snapped photos of his mother and father to keep in his own home. It was to be a testament to the love and happiness that had withstood 47 years of marriage, he said.
Fass' father died a few months later, and the photos took on a new meaning for Fass and family friends. They soon caught the eye of another married couple, who asked Fass to conduct a similar portrait session with them.
Questions began to formulate in Fass' mind as to why couples like his parents decide to marry. The writer and artist soon decided to hunt for answers.
This past year, Fass' endeavor brought him to Deer Isle and Stonington to photograph and interview three Downeast couples, all of whom have passed their 40th wedding anniversaries. Along with the Weeds, Fass' local subjects include Pearl and Nancy Eaton of Deer Isle and Andrew and Rose Gove of Stonington, most of whom have lived on Deer Isle all their lives.
Erma Weed, a Deer Isle native who is in the early stages of Alzheimer's Disease, said they appreciated someone taking such an interest in them. Fulton Weed said that after Fass got in touch with them, he spent a day talking with them and photographing them in different settings. Fass asked them how couples feel after being together for so long. Erma said she replied, "It's just where you belong."
Her husband credits much of their survival together to their daughter and three sons who have provided constant help on everything from splitting wood to instilling all-new electric wiring, plumbing and heating in their home.
The Eatons, who have four children of their own, said Fass took a lot of time to get to know them and their relationship before asking them to pose for photos. Nancy Eaton said she thought Fass was truly fascinated by their long relationship.
"He really wanted to get to know us and hear from us," she said.
The Eatons, who owned and operated a gas business until Pearl's recent retirement, said Fass first contacted them through a friend at church.
In this way, Fass has contacted couples across much of the nation from Maine to Hawaii, across many different backgrounds. Fass says he now plans to visit the southern U.S. to round out the project he soon hopes to publish in book form.
According to J. Michael Patry, executive director at Creative Photographic Art Center of Maine, the project strikes a deep chord of emotion within a person as soon as it is seen.
"When you see the photographs, if you haven't spoken with or seen your parents in a while, the first thing you'll do is pick up a phone," said Patry.
When Patry first saw the pictures he said he felt they were "touching, caring and sensitive." He soon contacted Fass and offered him to show the pictures at the center.
"The photos really are universal and nationwide. Some will make you smile while others will make you cry," said Patry.
Fass, who has background in theatre, said he hopes to expand the project to diverse, southern and interracial couples to get a better cultural perspective on marriage. Ultimately, he hopes to have a touring exhibition wherein he might go to schools and have students interview their own grandparents about their marriages and share in his fascination of long-loving couples.