HOPKINTON – Photographer and documentary filmmaker, Markham Starr, felt a spark ignite inside him six years ago when he joined a hike to view Native American stonework in the woods of North Stonington.
“I was so intrigued by the end of the hike, I wondered if I could find other examples on my own,” he says. That wonderment set him out on an artistic and historic mission.
The following year, Starr released his book ‘Ceremonial Stonework: The Enduring Native American Presence on the Land’.
“This book focused on available public lands within a five- mile radius of my home,” he shares. “Since then, I have spent every weekend day possible in the woods of Connecticut and Rhode Island trying to understand the stonework left behind.”
Starr has a long resume of work devoted to historical preservation with a goal of capturing in photographs cultures that are disappearing or have already disappeared. He covers such subjects as commercial fishing, family dairy farming, canneries and agricultural fairs.
Starr’s published books include ‘Voices from the Waterfront’ which focuses on the New Bedford fishing industry and ‘Barns of Connecticut’.
His documentary films include ‘In History’s Wake: The Trap Fisherman of Rhode Island.’
Over the course of his career, select photographs he has produced have been placed in permanent collections at the Library of Congress and his work has been featured in RI Monthly and Yankee Magazine.
On Jan 23, Starr will present a lecture on the 270 structures he chose for his book, out of the 8,000 he discovered, at Langworthy Public Library in Hope Valley.
“While archaeological evidence shows the first people in New England inhabited the landscape for more than 12,000 years, newly landed colonists from Europe immediately dismissed Native American spiritual practices as pagan rituals to be destroyed or silenced through Christianization,” Starr says. However over two dozen different types of physical manifestations of Native American beliefs have been found still scattered across New England.
“One of my primary goals in my efforts was to help preserve evidence of these structures,” Starr says. “It is thought that 90 percent of the Native American population in New England was swept away by the end of the second major epidemic to strike them in 1634, which would have left the stonework vulnerable to decay had the colonials and their ancestors not cleared out over 70 percent of the forests.”
Now that the forests are returning, Starr explains, the remaining stonework is being slowly destroyed.
“By extensively photographing what currently remains, I hope to leave behind a fuller record of their efforts,” he adds.
Starr’s lecture, to be held from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., is free and opened to the public. Langworthy Public Library is located at 24 Spring Street in Hope Valley.