There isn’t much about St. Johnsbury that Peggy Pearl doesn’t know. Her recall of historical people and events is so vivid and personal, she seems to transcend the present. This passion for the lineage and links that connect people and places in St. Johnsbury today will be celebrated on Friday, August 2, as Peggy Pearl receives the Franklin Fairbanks Award at the Fairbanks Museum.
The Franklin Fairbanks Award was established in 1988 to recognize “an individual, not necessarily a Vermonter, for lifelong creative and dedicated service to the residents of Vermont and/or New England, one whose body of work has significantly enriched regional and/or national awareness and understanding of our cultural heritage and/or the natural world, through contributions in the arts, humanities, or sciences.”
Peggy Pearl’s lifetime commitment to understanding and teaching the unique history and heritage of St. Johnsbury is undeniable. Her enthusiasm for sharing this passion gave rise to renewed appreciation for the objects and personalities that shape our community today. Her unique skills in making connections and sleuthing out historical references allow us to tell a vibrant and real story with links that move backwards and forwards through time.
“It’s a pleasure to pay tribute to Peggy Pearl with this Franklin Fairbanks Award,” says Adam Kane, executive director of the Fairbanks Museum. “Her work at the Museum and at the St. Johnsbury History & Heritage Center is tremendously important to recording and interpreting the rich heritage of this community.”
Pearl was awarded the 2018 Preservation Trust of Vermont Award for her work as founder of the St. Johnsbury History & Heritage Center. That statewide recognition came through her tireless efforts to preserve local history and establish a new home for artifacts. In the process, she also created the foundation of a “hands-on arts and local history education culture that will carry on for many years to come.”
In 2009, Pearl authored A Brief History of St. Johnsbury, published by The History Press. In the preface, she comments, “What I hoped to accomplish with this brief history was a readable and enjoyable text. Somewhere, I hope there is a happy medium reached between historical facts and enjoyment.” For the many, many people who work with her and have learned from her, this balance is what it’s all about. Somehow, Pearl finds the gems that bring historical dates to life, she gives each story meaning and traces heritage through families, homes, and adventures.
Pearl also makes time to laugh about her adventures, which draws volunteers and friends to her. In a recent conversation at the History & Heritage Center, she described hunting down the whereabouts of a portrait of Frances Fairbanks that has gone missing from the Fairbanks Museum. “I still don’t know when it left the Museum,” she laughs, “but I’m glad she’s back.” Pearl notes that Franklin and Frances Fairbanks were true partners in building the Fairbanks Museum, and she is thoughtful about reuniting their portraits. She has been able to resolve questions about St. Johnsbury’s history with accuracy and satisfaction, displaying artifacts that interpret the roots and rise of a community. Her fascination with the Fairbanks Family and their long reach through generations is matched by her deep appreciation for community connections.
Peggy Pearl was an educator at the Fairbanks Museum for 37 years before establishing the St. Johsnbury History & Heritage Center in 2010. During her tenure at the Museum, she launched and orchestrated the Festival of Traditional Crafts, an annual event that brought together practitioners of life-skills that were on the cusp of being forgotten. The Festival became a celebration of New England heritage and rekindled interest in tools and talents that were once common, such as bee-keeping, log-boring, candle-making, rug-braiding, and much more. Her contributions to the understanding of our community continue to keep alive the stories and characters that guide what we know about who lived here and how. Her ability to keep those stories meaningful and vibrant enriches our appreciation of the neighborhoods, institutions, and families here today.
The Franklin Fairbanks Award celebration on Friday, August 2, 6:00 – 7:00 PM at the Fairbanks Museum honors Peggy Pearl’s many gifts. This event is free and open to all.