Third Thursday Event Spotlighting 20th-Century Turners Falls-Documentary about Renaissance Community

Spirit in Flesh

Renaissance Community Tour Bus, early 1970’s. Photo by Dan Brown.

By Cori Urban | Special to The Republican
on September 09, 2014-MONTAGUE –Twentieth Century Turners Falls will be in the spotlight as RiverCulture’s Third Thursday event focuses on water power on the Connecticut River, the Renaissance Community and the role of women in industrial age factory work.

There will be Polish food and Irish music as well as a tour of Our Lady of Czestochowa Church with a talk about the secrets of great architectural photography on Sept. 18.

“It’s really about the impact of different populations,” said Suzanne K. LoManto, director of Turners Falls RiverCulture. “In the early 20th Century, Polish traditions–also Irish, French Canadian and German–made a tremendous impact on the history of Turners Falls. The Renaissance Community did something similar, but instead of sharing a national heritage, they shared a vision for the future; life in Turners Falls changed quickly, for better and sometimes worse.”

The Brotherhood of the Spirit–renamed Renaissance Community in 1974–was one of the largest and most enduring communes in the northeast United States with property in Montague and Gill.

It will be featured during the Thursday, Sept. 18, event which takes place at locations in downtown Turners Falls, a village of the Town of Montague, from 6 to 10 p.m. It will include exhibitions, talks, performances, installations, film and workshops about the history of Turners Falls.

“White Coal a documentary about water power on the Connecticut River and “Dams!” will be shown at the Great Falls Discovery Center, 2 Avenue A, at 6 p.m. Local historian Ed Gregory will give an audio-visual presentation on the evolution of the dams and waterpower in Turners Falls. Through historic images, he captures the pulse of a thriving industrial town built along the powerful Connecticut River.

“Free Spirits,” a documentary about the Renaissance Community by Bruce Geisler, will be shown at The Shea Theater, 71 Avenue A, at 7 p.m. Photos and ephemera from the period will be on display, and there will be a question-and-answer session with former members after the film.

The non-profit Community Resource Foundation will sell DVDs of “Free Spirits.”

On the Avenue during the evening, there will be free Polish food and Irish music by Conway fiddler Kenny Butler.

There will be an Avenue A Walking History Tour with Sue Sansoucie from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

“Many Yesterdays,” a video installation created by RiverCulture at 106 Avenue A, will include historic still photos and early, moving images of Turners Falls projected outside.

“The Spirit of Creativity” will be at Avenue A Storefront Galleries, 106-112 Avenue A, featuring an exhibition of new and period art by former Renaissance Community members.

An installation by Marykate Smith Despres, an examination of the role of women in industrial age factory work, will be on view at Spinner Park, at the corner of Avenue A and Fourth Street, from Sept. 18-21.

“Light and Architecture,” a free photography workshop with Beth Reynolds, will take place during the RiverCulture event at Our Lady of Czestochowa Church, 84 K Street, at 6:15 p.m. Participants will tour the church and learn about architectural photography. Working with natural light will also be discussed. Bring your camera and a tripod. Registration is required:

Turners was once a thriving industrial town, but it has seen hard times with the closing of a paper mill, cutlery, cotton mill and other businesses. But “Turners Falls is definitely moving in the right direction,” LoManto said. “There is a strong spirit of friendship and many volunteer collaborations for the betterment of the town. The arts are alive, and business is growing. There is encouraging news everywhere.”

She hopes people will attend the Third Thursday events—which will appeal to a broader audience that just Turners Falls folks past and present–and have a good time downtown. “There is an educational aspect to this month’s Third Thursday event, but much of the material is presented through music, film, photography, video and visual arts. And food. We’re having golumpki.”

Third Thursday Turners Falls is a monthly arts, culture and downtown business night featuring art exhibits, open studios, musical performances, walking tours, theater, invited artisans and other attractions in the village as well as extended open hours at participating venues.

For more information, go online to

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