Artist Danie Connolly directs a photo shoot on Summer Street in Kennebunk that will eventually be included in a series of Norman Rockwell-style snapshots commemorating the town’s bicentennial celebration in 2020. ED PIERCE/Journal Tribune

KENNEBUNK — Somewhere out there in the great beyond, legendary painter Norman Rockwell doubled over with laughter at the lengths that a group of Kennebunk residents went to create a Rockwell-esque scene for a photograph that will be included in the town’s bicentennial celebration next year.

Rockwell became famous for his Saturday Evening Post cover illustrations that reflected common everyday American culture over a span of five decades and that’s precisely the theme Kennebunk artist Danie Connolly was hoping to recapture one afternoon last week when she assembled a collection of funeral directors, construction workers, a construction foreman, a backhoe operator and a police officer outside Bibber Memorial Chapel on Summer Street.

Connolly is currently working on a project that will feature 200 distinct scenes of everyday life in Kennebunk that will be exhibited in 2020 coinciding with the 200th anniversary of the founding of Kennebunk and said this particular photograph is the 80th overall she has taken so far in building the series of photos.

“Norman Rockwell’s illustrations were so iconic that they became the inspiration for this project,” Connolly said. “We just wanted to have fun doing this and were so blessed to have this dig happening right here on Summer Street in front of the Bibber Funeral Home. We just couldn’t pass up this opportunity.”

The Bibber Memorial Chapel itself dates to 1868 when it was built by George Wise at the junction of the present Sea Road and Route 35, also known as Summer Street. Through the years it served as a family dwelling, a merchant’s store and was passed down from one generation to the next until it was acquired by the Bibber family in 1956 and eventually converted into a funeral home.

A one-story addition was added to the back ell of the structure, with a side entrance, but essentially the building is the same as when the Bibbers first purchased it other than a wall was removed between the dining room and parlor to provide a large viewing parlor. The elegant fireplaces, the silver door hinges, the black walnut-paneled front vestibule, the front-hall stairway, the carriage house cupola, and the distinct Mansard-style roof remain as they were more than a century ago.

It didn’t take very much convincing on Connolly’s part to get members of the Bibber family to buy into the staging of her photograph.

“She asked if we could do this and we said why not do it?” Doug Bibber said. “And here we are.”

Wearing their funeral director suits as they were posed along the sidewalk were Doug Bibber, Richard Bibber and Eddie Bibber. And soon joining them on the opposite end of the walkway were Chuck Stevens, an excavating foreman for Brex Corporation and Patrolman Chris Carney of the Kennebunk Police Department.

Carney said he had no idea when he reported to work that day that he would become part of Connolly’s bicentennial photo project.

“I walked in and the lieutenant said ‘Do I have a job for you’ and he sure did,” Carney said. “It truly was interesting.”

To add even more distinction to the setting, Connolly enlisted five members of a road construction crew to pose for the photo as if they were digging a hole along with a 17,000-pound backhoe and operator all wearing yellow vests and hard hats.

As Connolly set up her photo and posed the participants the way she wanted them to appear, the actual snapshot was taken at a distance by professional photographer Robert Akers of Kennebunk.

“I think it really turned out well,” Connolly said. “The sky was perfect and everything rather fell nicely into place. I think Norman Rockwell would approve of what we are doing out there with this.”

The entire collection of Connolly’s photographs will not be unveiled until next June, but at least passing motorists on Summer Street were able to catch a glimpse of what one of them will be.

“I want to express my thanks to everyone who gave up the time to help us with this,” Connolly said. “I really think this photograph will be one that people will be talking about for some time.”

— Executive Editor Ed Pierce can be reached at 282-1535 or by email at [email protected] 

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