December 15, 2021

Anyone who took a trip to the Montserrat’s Paul M. Scott Library this month likely ran into some childhood memories. Not their own, of course, but Beverly resident Pat Healy’s. Those memories, in the form of slides, made up the raw material for an amazing installation by Liz Nofziger’s Drawing in Space class.

Early this summer, while installing an air conditioner for his parents, Healy discovered a collection of slides stretching back to the 60s and through the mid-80s. It was a particularly poignant discovery at a particularly raw moment, as Pat’s mother was sick with a rare degenerative disease called Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. The slides presented the family an opportunity to revisit earlier days.

So Healy and his eight-year-old son gathered the reels, as well as a machine to digitize them, and began the process of preservation. The pair managed to convert all 4,500 slides and compressed the AC-obstructing stack of memories onto a single thumb drive, which Healy gifted to his dad—the man behind the camera for most of these shots—as a Father’s Day gift. For the first time in decades, the family was able to sit down and revisit all of the images.

“All this time, my mother’s illness had been slowly and steadily creeping into more serious terrain, but getting to sit with her as she watched all of these slides glide by on shuffle, that was one of the best days of my year, as she frequently pressed the pause button to regale us with stories about what was happening in my parents’ lives at the time.”

The preservation of the Healy family’s cherished memories had itself produced another cherished memory, and at a time when it was sorely needed. But with the slides now digitized and the route to memory lane easily revisited, Pat was met with the familiar problem: what to do with all of these slides. He no longer felt the need to hold onto the physical copies, but could not bring himself to simply throw them out. Ultimately he turned to friend, neighbor, and Montserrat instructor, Liz Nofziger. She was certain she could “find something for my students to do with these.”

That “something” is entitled 3 Decades (Remix), and is currently on display in the Montserrat library. In Pat’s own words:

“I knew I’d appreciate anything the students would have done but I didn’t expect to latch onto it quite the way I did. Seeing all of the slides laid out all together with the brilliant light shining behind them in all of their Kodachrome glory, I was so moved by the way they spoke to me.

“It has been four months since my Mom died, and I’ve obviously been thinking about her a lot, as I process this loss. And when you have so many thoughts about a person, you don’t really focus in on one particular thought for too long. The thoughts are all just there in one big mass, swirling around, some twisted or upside down, individual thoughts coming to the forefront of your mind and then receding as another one takes its place.

“As I told Liz, what these students did is as beautiful and abstract as the way the human memory works, especially at this stage of the grieving process. The way they presented the photos, in three colossal columns, makes it so it is not necessarily one picture that commands attention, but it is all of the memories of my early life all together. When I’d step back, they were all there, but as I’d step closer I could really look in and see and feel all of the individual colors from that memory. I am very grateful to Liz and her students for doing this. It has been especially healing in my grieving process and in the way that I was able to spend some more time with something that I thought I might lose, but didn’t want to let go of.”

3 Decades (Remix) is up in the Montserrat library until mid-January. The students who created it are Brook Boucher, Lesley Garcia, Coco Haseltine, Rowan Hoyt, Jo Joseph, Kali Orna, Trevor Rubin, Daniela Serratore, and Kerrigan Upton.