Kitty Burkhart considers herself “the keeper of the flame” in the house where she grew up. Her parents bought the 1828 house in September 1942. Built by Daniel Stout, a veteran of the War of 1812, the house didn’t have indoor plumbing or electricity when Kitty’s parents purchased it.
The mortar between the walls’ stone had deteriorated so badly that sunlight shone through in many places. Blacksnakes nested between the first and second floors. But Kitty’s mother Carol saw what it could be. In 1973, the Old Stone House that Carol Brown had so lovingly restored became the first property in Monroe County to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Today, Kitty lives alone in the house. When her tenure ends, she hopes that another family member will take her place.
Kitty’s story is one of 18 featured in a new book about women and their homes. Published in October by Indiana University Press, A Home of Her Own was photographed by Bloomington photographer Kendall Reeves and written by Bloomington writer Nancy Hiller.
“It was a breath of fresh air to do something like this,” says Kendall, owner of Spectrum Studio, Inc. “It was a little different from other projects that I was working on at the time so I was happy when Nancy asked me to do the photography.”
As a cabinetmaker and owner of NR Hiller Design, Inc., Nancy has worked with Kendall for more than 20 years.
“I have photographed her custom cabinet work and woodworking,” Kendall says. “When she was thinking about doing this book, she mentioned it to me and asked if I would be interested in it. I thought it would be something that would be a challenge and fun to shoot.”
VISITING THE HOMES
With the project on the fast track, Kendall and Nancy got to work. The book visits an assortment of houses spanning a mid-century modern ranch to a pre-Civil War brick farmhouse to a trailer in the middle of a Hoosier cornfield. The homes are located in Bloomington, Chicago and Oakland, California.
“We made two trips to Chicago and one to California,” Kendall says. “The toughest thing about the book was that I was going into a lot of these homes sight unseen so I didn’t know what to expect. Sometimes I would be doing the photography at the same time Nancy was doing the interviews.”
Wanting to photograph in the best possible light for each home, Kendall decided to use a technique he had just started working with – high dynamic range imaging or HDR. The technique allows a greater dynamic range between the lightest and darkest areas of an image than current standard digital imaging techniques or photographic methods.
“HDR is shot with available light. You don’t use flash,” Kendall says. “I do an exposure for shadow and an exposure for midtones and then an exposure for highlights. Then I blend it all together.”
The result is more than 100 stunning photographic images to illustrate the stories in A Home of Her Own. “The book is the first major project that I used HDR on,” Kendall says. “I decided it would be a nice look for the book. I think it lets you see the homes as you would if you were actually visiting them. “
An award-winning photographer, Kendall started on his career path when he was in the eighth grade at Batchelor Middle School. “One Friday my science teacher Terry Daugherty asked if anyone wanted to learn how to process black and white film. If we did, we should bring in a roll of film,” Kendall recalls. Hooked on the process of shooting and processing film, Kendall later went on to work on the school newspaper and yearbook for three years at Bloomington South High School.
From high school, Kendall went to Ivy Tech in Columbus where he studied commercial and industrial photography. He worked in Indianapolis as a photographer for three years then opened his own studio in Bloomington in 1989. “Other than summer jobs welding for my uncle, I’ve always worked as a photographer,” Kendall says. “I have no idea what the future might have been if not for my eighth grade teacher.”
IMPORTANCE OF HOME
Nancy’s path was a bit more roundabout. Growing up in sort of a commune in her father’s house, Nancy built her first “home” – a small bed closed off by a couple of shelves – in the corner of the garage. At the age of 12, she moved with her mother and sister to England. After high school she completed a City & Guilds of London training in traditional furniture making and worked as a cabinetmaker before returning to the United States in 1987.
Eight years later, divorced and with a master’s degree in religious studies from Indiana University, Nancy decided to stay in Bloomington. She bought a house that was love at first sight.
Setting up shop in her basement, Nancy set about making her house into a home. Along the way, her home and garden began to reflect the mishaps and milestones in her life. When it didn’t work out with one man, she replaced him with lilies and roses in her garden. When another relationship fell by the wayside, she built an arbor at the south side of her porch.
Nancy also began noticing how many single women own homes and how attached they become to them. “Women today are freer than at any previous time to have our own home,” she says. “Small wonder that some of us have come to regard our homes as partners that nurture us just as we care for them.”
Read the tale of Peggy Shepherd, for instance. Kendall’s photograph of Peggy’s living room is on the book cover. For more than half a century, Peggy made several homes in and around Bloomington – buying them, fixing them up and then selling. A business partner in the home furnishings store Grant St, Peggy had an artful interior decorating style.
The most ambitious house project of her life was also her last. About 10 years ago, Peggy bought a 19th century timber framed barn that had to be removed from its setting. Buying a few acres in a secluded rural spot, Peggy prepared the site, moved the barn and took more than three years to make it her home. Some people questioned why she went to all that work, particularly after she was diagnosed with colon cancer.
“Peggy Shepherd was a dauntless person, devoted to seeing the project through,” Nancy says. “It was breathtaking what she did with that old barn, particularly considering that she did it with limited resources.”
Peggy died before the book project began. But her story is included as a tribute to the loyalty and love that homeowners bestow on the places they call home.
“What I liked about the homes was that they reflected the personalities of the owners,” Kendall says. “That’s what the book is all about and what I tried to capture in my photographs – how homes are often filled with the essence of a person’s life.”
The book is available at Spectrum Studio and Bloomingfoods in Bloomington as well as at local bookstores and IU Press at www.iupress.indiana.edu.