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Photojournalist, writer Watriss, Baldwin return to Grimes County

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    Courtesy photos The Watriss-Baldwin photos chronicle the ‘faces of Grimes County’ living life whether it’s practicing before church, dancing at the Anderson K of C Hall, getting married, bronc riding or sporting a necessary piece of equipment for life in the country.
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Two Rivers Heritage Foundation and the Grimes County Historical Commission will host award winning photojournalist and writer Wendy Watriss and Fred Baldwin as they present “Grimes County. A Journey In Time.” Watriss and Baldwin may be best remembered by old-timers and history buffs for their pictorial chronicling of life in Grimes County in the 1970s and early 1980s.

The event, scheduled for Tuesday, Feb.18 at the Navasota Center, 101 Stadium Drive, will begin at 7 p.m. and has also received special support from Carolyn Bessellieu, chairperson of African American History for Two Rivers Heritage Foundation.

Immersed in the culture

Watriss and Baldwin came to Grimes County with the intent of publishing a book called “Backroads of America” but as The New York Times reported, “In Texas, they decided to go deep instead of broad.” They lived two of their four and a half years in Texas with a black family and immersed themselves in the lives and culture of Grimes County residents as a way of understanding their own roots as U.S. citizens after living and working outside the country for a long period of time.

Before their stay in Grimes County, the globe-trotting duo’s credentials included writing for Newsweek, The New York Times and photographing public figures Pablo Picasso and Martin Luther King as well as the Vietnam Memorial and the effects of Agent Orange.

Why Grimes County?

Their nostalgic black and white photos were taken at locations ranging from Navasota’s Railroad Street to dancing at the Anderson K of C Hall to a political rally at the Bedias Civic Club.

When asked in 1976, ‘Why Grimes County?’ Baldwin told the Navasota Examiner, “In the 1800s it played an important part in the state’s growing cotton industry and became one of the richest counties in Texas. Although settled predominantly by people from the south, people from many different cultural backgrounds have contributed to the history of the county.”

Several years ago, the photos came to the attention of Two Rivers chairman of African American History, Carolyn Bessellieu, and through social media she was able to identity a number of individuals in the 40-plus year old black and white photos.

Faces find place of

prominence

According to Two Rivers president Betty Dunn, the ‘faces of Grimes County’ earned “a place of prominence at the Menil’s Rice Institute for the Arts in Houston” where they were on display from April 12 to June 19, 1977.

In November 2019, the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin proudly announced the addition of Watriss and Baldwin’s individual and collective work as documentary photographers to its nationally-renown collection.

Don Carlton, executive director of the Briscoe Center said, “For seven decades Fred and Wendy have worked tirelessly to capture the changing character of American life.”

The couple now reside in Houston and are actively involved with Houston’s FotoFest founded in 1983 by Baldwin.