WATERVILLE — John Picher was surprised when a few weeks ago he saw a posting on Facebook trying to locate relatives of Gedeon Picher.

Gedeon Picher, a photographer and French Canadian immigrant to Waterville in the late 1800s, is John Picher’s grandfather.

“It was kind of a surprise, but it was very nice to be able to sit down and talk about our family and my grandfather’s photographs,” John Picher, 71, said of the Facebook post by Tanya Sheehan, an associate art professor at Colby College.

Picher and his wife, Bonnie, who live in Vassalboro, agreed to meet Sheehan for dinner to talk about some of Gedeon Picher’s photos, which Sheehan and a group of students had uncovered while researching Franco-American history in Waterville.

Several of the photos, some provided to the college by the Picher family and others that Sheehan and her students found on eBay, are now part of an exhibit on photography and migration at Colby’s Miller Library.

The exhibit, which opened Friday as part of a larger Photography and Migrations Conference, will be on display through the summer and is open to the public.

The conference uses photos and other material from Colby’s special collections, the Waterville Historical Society and local families, such as the Pichers, to examine how photography has been used to document migration.

It is also part of a larger effort to preserve historical photos of Waterville through the Colby special collections, Sheehan said.

“This is a preliminary effort to forge a connection between what we do here on Mayflower Hill and in the community,” she said.

“I think we’ve begun in a small way to reach out to the community and get people talking about migrations, and we’re hoping to continue that work through photography.”

Since January, Sheehan and 11 students have been researching photography and its role in the movement of people and ideas.

A smaller group of students in the class chose to look at Franco-American history in Waterville, and after searching through dozens of historical photos they found the work of Gedeon Picher, an immigrant from Saint-Lambert, Quebec, who came to New England in 1888 and established a photography studio on Water Street.

The area was known as “the Plains” at the time and was home to many French-speaking residents, some of whom posed for Picher.

Lydia Nicholson, one of the students who worked on Picher’s work, said she was excited to meet John Picher on Friday.

“It was awesome,” she said. “

That’s the cool thing about special collections. They’re made up of a lot of primary source materials, like the photos that come from the Pichers.”

There were also some images the Pichers had never seen. Many of Gedeon Picher’s photographs had been stolen from the Water Street studio and never recovered, his grandson said.

“The only thing I can think of is maybe they were some of these,” his wife said, gesturing to the three portraits the students found on eBay.

“I think family photos are really important,” said Barrie Tovar, another student who worked on curating the Gedeon Picher portion of the exhibit. “You can really see the impact they have.”

Photography and Migration is open to the public and can be viewed from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at the college’s Miller Library.

Rachel Ohm can be contacted at 612-2368 or at:

[email protected]