New exhibit gives illustrated window into Norwich history

Published: Jun. 7, 2023 at 5:05 PM EDT
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NORWICH, Vt. (WCAX) - A picture is worth more than a thousand words when it comes to the town of Norwich. Cartoonists are retelling the town’s history in a new book on display at the local historical society.

Whether it’s Dan & Whits store, the Norwich Congregational Church, or Marion Cross Elementary School, Norwich -- like other towns across the region -- is rich in history.

And history runs in the family for Emily Zea, who grew up locally. “In my family, I’m definitely more of the artist, where everyone else is the historian, and I sort of combine the two,” Zea said.

Zea’s comic book, “Becoming Norwich,” documents the town’s past with cartoons, from Abenaki origins to modern-day town meetings. The graduate of the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, says she tries to make the past more accessible through her drawings. “So much of history is reading really dense documents,” Zea said.

The exhibit on display at Norwich Historical Society and Community Center lays out her process for making the book and includes real-world artifacts. It’s also interactive. Kids can learn to make their own cartoons and spot buildings from old pictures on a colorful map.

“Kids who already love history are going to love it, but kids who didn’t really realize how much they were interested in the past, will be hooked because they will have the visual references that a comic book can bring them,” Zea said.

“Kids are really fascinated by seeing old photos and then seeing new photos and then looking that their own drawings,” said the historical society’s Sarah Rooker.

But it’s not just about the kids. It’s also for families who are new to the community to learn more about their town. “What town meeting is, how you can get involved in town meeting and in the community. How the community works,” explained Rooker.

And Zea’s history lesson will not end there. “There is no shortage of small-town history in New England so I am looking forward to the next one,” she said.

The free exhibit will be up for an entire year.