Howard Mansfield’s literary agent Christina Ward saw lots of promise in a chapter devoted to sheds in his book Dwelling in Possibility: Searching for the Soul of Shelter, published in 2013.
“She pointed out, wouldn’t it be great if we could see these in pictures?” Mansfield said via phone.
Ward died suddenly in 2012 before the book was published, but Mansfield’s publisher, Bauhan Publishing, thought Ward had been on to something. They brought in photographer Joanna Eldredge Morrissey, who spent the past two years taking shed photos in and around the region. The result, Sheds, was released Aug. 15.
For the most part, the text of Sheds is the same as in the Dwelling in Possibility chapter devoted to them. A shed, in Mansfield’s definition, is flexible and fragile — strong enough to bend but easily fixed. They’re temporary, yet they last, and they evolve or devolve as needed. They’re part shelter, part tool, and they’re permeable.
The buildings splashed on the book’s pages are characterized by this definition, taking the form of covered bridges, barns, workspaces, tea houses, saunas and summer homes, even rusty old vacated buses and Lake Winnipesaukee bob houses.
“I’ve always loved bob houses. They’re just informal. There are no rules about them,” Mansfield said. “You can essentially build whatever you want. It’s the last unregulated building around, and people have made some witty, charming buildings.”
Morrissey, also The MacDowell Colony staff photographer, needed no convincing to join the project. She loves old structures and comes from a family of architects. Her favorites to photograph were the falling down buildings, what she calls “dead sheds,” full of history and texture.
“There’s one particular barn in the book that was shot in New Ipswich which probably has like six different sidings. It’s amazing, what New Englanders will do to patch a building together, to uphold it and keep it up for another generation,” she said.
Morrissey took an estimated 10,000 photos via car rides, by herself or with Mansfield, through the Monadnock and Lakes regions and during road trips to Bar Harbor in Maine and New York State. Most that made the cut are from New Hampshire.
Mansfield lives with his wife, writer Sy Montgomery, in a 130-year-old house in Peterborough. His intent in writing Dwelling in Possibility was to figure out what’s lacking in modern-day houses. And what is it that attracts someone to a building?
“In 30 seconds, you know if you’re going to buy or rent a place. It’s a feeling,” Mansfield said. “And yet when it comes time to creating newer places, we have a hard time doing that. … Sheds are happy, simple buildings. … I want people to see if they can look at their surroundings with fresh eyes and appreciate the flexibility of common buildings, their grace and the way they adapt decade after decade. New England in particular is still full of these wonderful common buildings.”