Arts and Culture

Charles Mintz’ latest collection, “Lustron Stories: Americans at Home,” explores the themes of place, purpose and the tenuous definition of the “American dream”—all in the context of Lustron prefabricated homes in modern Midwest neighborhoods.

The collection will be on display at PUBLIC Gallery on Main Street through March 28.

Lustron manufactured all-steel, porcelain, baked-enamel houses in Columbus, Ohio, between 1940 and 1950. They were designed for GI’s returning from the war and young families just starting out.

About four years ago, Mintz had an exhibition on homes that he was going to present at the Ohio History Connection. The staff there were in the midst of putting together a project on the ’50s and there was a write-up on Lustrons in a journal which the organization produced. The staff suggested he look at it, and Mintz said he became interested in the idea of the people who now live on those houses.

“Not so much running around photographing the structures, but what has happened to the people living in these pretty modest houses over the course of 65 years,” Mintz said.

“This ties back into my interest in my work in ‘The Great American Dream,’ and having your own home is clearly a big part of that, or it was anyway.”

For three years, Mintz scoured Internet databases and wrote letters to owners of Lustron homes, asking for permission to come photograph their homes.

“When you work with volunteers, and in this case they are volunteering to let a stranger into their homes, it’s kind of an act of generosity on the part of the person. So people who do it really connect once they do it,” Mintz said.

Some of the people with whom Mintz worked gave him gifts, while others connected with him on Facebook.

“A sort of community is formed, which is actually very sweet,” he said.

The subjects of the collection range in age, race and situation—the homes were the only real similarity. But Mintz concentrates on communicating their stories as fully as he can in a single portrait.

“When I do my work, the narrative comes first. There’s a story to tell, and it’s more important than always the quality of the photograph—which sometimes gets me in trouble—but I think the quality of these are perfectly fine,” Mintz said. “But presentation matters too, so if you can reinforce the subject with the presentation it adds a depth to it.”

Ashlie Stevens is WFPL's Arts & Culture Reporter.