Rescuing portraits from the past in Canandaigua

When cleaning out the former home of Helen Stewart — who with sister Peggy made up the Stewart portrait photography studio — pile after pile of photos and negatives were destined to be lost forever.

Basically, they were put out on the front boulevard for the dump, said Ontario County Historical Society Executive Director Ed Varno.

That is, until Don Muller, a former director of the museum, rescued them — and there are many, as the Historical Society now has several thick binders full of these photos.

But there is a problem with “The Stewart Collection,” as they are dubbed. Fortunately, some of the photos had names, but for others, either the handwriting on the sleeves that protected the photos couldn’t be read or there were no names at all.

“We started saying, ‘Who’s this?’” Varno said.

Several members of the museum and its board are trying to solve this whodunit.

Each week, the Daily Messenger will publish in print and post online unnamed Stewart photos as part of a regular feature, “Rescued Portraits of the Past.” The hope is that readers will be able to recognize friends and family members and help “identify as many of these people we can so they are not lost souls with no name,” Varno said.

Fritz Cermak, who is a new member of the Historical Society’s board, said he is excited to solve this mystery because it’s a shame names can’t be placed to these faces from the past.

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