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Susannah Lowry plays ‘living statue’ of Emily Dickinson

  • Susannah Lowry, of Sunderland, performs as a statue of Emily Dickinson Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Susannah Lowry, of Sunderland, performs as a statue of Emily Dickinson Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Susannah Lowry, of Sunderland, performs as a statue of Emily Dickinson Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Susannah Lowry, of Sunderland, performs as a statue of Emily Dickinson Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Susannah Lowry, of Sunderland, performs as a statue of Emily Dickinson Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Susannah Lowry, of Sunderland, performs as a statue of Emily Dickinson Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Susannah Lowry applies make-up Saturday at her home in Sunderland before  her performance as an Emily Dickinson statue at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Susannah Lowry applies make-up Saturday at her home in Sunderland before her performance as an Emily Dickinson statue at the Amherst Farmers Market.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Susannah Lowry, left, and her mother, Janet Lowry, both of Sunderland, set up for Susannah's performance as a statue of Emily Dickinson Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Susannah Lowry, left, and her mother, Janet Lowry, both of Sunderland, set up for Susannah's performance as a statue of Emily Dickinson Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Susannah Lowry, of Sunderland, hands an excerpt from a poem by Emily Dickinson to Will Waldron, of Amherst, while performing as a statue of her Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Susannah Lowry, of Sunderland, hands an excerpt from a poem by Emily Dickinson to Will Waldron, of Amherst, while performing as a statue of her Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Susannah Lowry, of Sunderland, hands an excerpt from a poem by Emily Dickinson to John Nunnelly, of Amherst, while performing as a statue of her Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Susannah Lowry, of Sunderland, hands an excerpt from a poem by Emily Dickinson to John Nunnelly, of Amherst, while performing as a statue of her Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Susannah Lowry holds still as her mother, Janet Lowry, applies make-up at their Sunderland home Saturday for her performance as an Emily Dickinson statue at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Susannah Lowry holds still as her mother, Janet Lowry, applies make-up at their Sunderland home Saturday for her performance as an Emily Dickinson statue at the Amherst Farmers Market.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Susannah Lowry applies make-up Saturday at her home in Sunderland before  her performance as an Emily Dickinson statue at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Susannah Lowry applies make-up Saturday at her home in Sunderland before her performance as an Emily Dickinson statue at the Amherst Farmers Market.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Susannah Lowry applies make-up Saturday at her home in Sunderland before  her performance as an Emily Dickinson statue at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Susannah Lowry applies make-up Saturday at her home in Sunderland before her performance as an Emily Dickinson statue at the Amherst Farmers Market.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Susannah Lowry applies make-up Saturday at her home in Sunderland before  her performance as an Emily Dickinson statue at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Susannah Lowry applies make-up Saturday at her home in Sunderland before her performance as an Emily Dickinson statue at the Amherst Farmers Market.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Janet Lowry, right, applies make-up to her daughter, Susannah, Saturday at their home in Sunderland before her performance as an Emily Dickinson statue at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Janet Lowry, right, applies make-up to her daughter, Susannah, Saturday at their home in Sunderland before her performance as an Emily Dickinson statue at the Amherst Farmers Market.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Janet Lowry, right, applies make-up to her daughter, Susannah, Saturday at their home in Sunderland before her performance as an Emily Dickinson statue at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Janet Lowry, right, applies make-up to her daughter, Susannah, Saturday at their home in Sunderland before her performance as an Emily Dickinson statue at the Amherst Farmers Market.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Bridget Lowry, right, scrapes frost from the window of her family's car as her sister, Susannah Lowry, who portrays a statue as Emily Dickinson at the Amherst Farmers Market, prepares to leave from their home in Sunderland Saturday.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Bridget Lowry, right, scrapes frost from the window of her family's car as her sister, Susannah Lowry, who portrays a statue as Emily Dickinson at the Amherst Farmers Market, prepares to leave from their home in Sunderland Saturday.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Susannah Lowry, of Sunderland, performs as a statue of Emily Dickinson Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Susannah Lowry, of Sunderland, performs as a statue of Emily Dickinson Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Susannah Lowry, left, and her mother, Janet Lowry, both of Sunderland, set up for Susannah's performance as a statue of Emily Dickinson Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Susannah Lowry, left, and her mother, Janet Lowry, both of Sunderland, set up for Susannah's performance as a statue of Emily Dickinson Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Susannah Lowry, right, and her mother, Janet Lowry, both of Sunderland, set up for Susannah's performance as a statue of Emily Dickinson Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Susannah Lowry, right, and her mother, Janet Lowry, both of Sunderland, set up for Susannah's performance as a statue of Emily Dickinson Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Susannah Lowry, of Sunderland, hands an excerpt from a poem by Emily Dickinson to Russ Fox, of Pulaski, N.Y., while performing as a statue of her Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Susannah Lowry, of Sunderland, hands an excerpt from a poem by Emily Dickinson to Russ Fox, of Pulaski, N.Y., while performing as a statue of her Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Susannah Lowry, of Sunderland, performs as a statue of Emily Dickinson Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Susannah Lowry, of Sunderland, performs as a statue of Emily Dickinson Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Susannah Lowry applies make-up to her fingers as her mother, Janet Lowry, works on her face Saturday before her performance as an Emily Dickinson statue at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Susannah Lowry applies make-up to her fingers as her mother, Janet Lowry, works on her face Saturday before her performance as an Emily Dickinson statue at the Amherst Farmers Market.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Susannah Lowry, of Sunderland, performs as a statue of Emily Dickinson Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Susannah Lowry, of Sunderland, performs as a statue of Emily Dickinson Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Susannah Lowry, of Sunderland, performs as a statue of Emily Dickinson Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Susannah Lowry applies make-up Saturday at her home in Sunderland before  her performance as an Emily Dickinson statue at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Susannah Lowry, left, and her mother, Janet Lowry, both of Sunderland, set up for Susannah's performance as a statue of Emily Dickinson Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Susannah Lowry, of Sunderland, hands an excerpt from a poem by Emily Dickinson to Will Waldron, of Amherst, while performing as a statue of her Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Susannah Lowry, of Sunderland, hands an excerpt from a poem by Emily Dickinson to John Nunnelly, of Amherst, while performing as a statue of her Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Susannah Lowry holds still as her mother, Janet Lowry, applies make-up at their Sunderland home Saturday for her performance as an Emily Dickinson statue at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Susannah Lowry applies make-up Saturday at her home in Sunderland before  her performance as an Emily Dickinson statue at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Susannah Lowry applies make-up Saturday at her home in Sunderland before  her performance as an Emily Dickinson statue at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Susannah Lowry applies make-up Saturday at her home in Sunderland before  her performance as an Emily Dickinson statue at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Janet Lowry, right, applies make-up to her daughter, Susannah, Saturday at their home in Sunderland before her performance as an Emily Dickinson statue at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Janet Lowry, right, applies make-up to her daughter, Susannah, Saturday at their home in Sunderland before her performance as an Emily Dickinson statue at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Bridget Lowry, right, scrapes frost from the window of her family's car as her sister, Susannah Lowry, who portrays a statue as Emily Dickinson at the Amherst Farmers Market, prepares to leave from their home in Sunderland Saturday.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Susannah Lowry, of Sunderland, performs as a statue of Emily Dickinson Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Susannah Lowry, left, and her mother, Janet Lowry, both of Sunderland, set up for Susannah's performance as a statue of Emily Dickinson Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Susannah Lowry, right, and her mother, Janet Lowry, both of Sunderland, set up for Susannah's performance as a statue of Emily Dickinson Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Susannah Lowry, of Sunderland, hands an excerpt from a poem by Emily Dickinson to Russ Fox, of Pulaski, N.Y., while performing as a statue of her Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Susannah Lowry, of Sunderland, performs as a statue of Emily Dickinson Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Susannah Lowry applies make-up to her fingers as her mother, Janet Lowry, works on her face Saturday before her performance as an Emily Dickinson statue at the Amherst Farmers Market.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

Editors’s note: This story was written in October, as Susannah Lowry was ending her first season in Amherst as a living statue of poet Emily Dickinson. Look for her return in the spring, perhaps as a character from Shakespeare in addition to portraying Dickinson.

Robbie Vorhaus of Sag Harbor, N.Y., was walking past the farmers market in downtown Amherst Saturday when he stopped to look at what he thought was a statue of poet Emily Dickinson.

“I felt like it was so smart of the town to have her statue here,” he said. “Then I saw her eyes following me.”

For two hours, passers-by did double- and triple-takes. Some stopped and stared.

“Is that a person?” Mary Cattani of Amherst asked a friend.

Yes. It is Susannah Lowry, 18, of Sunderland, a student at the New England Center for Circus Arts in Brattleboro, Vt. She started coming to the Amherst Farmers Market as Emily Dickinson a year ago. She also did her Dickinson impersonation at the Amherst Block Party on Sept. 13 and the Taste of Amherst in June.

“It gets people out of their usual thought patterns,” she said of her living statue performance. “They think it can’t possibly be what they think it is. ”

To transform herself into a statue, Lowry covers her face, arms and neck with brown makeup and dons a long dress and a wig, both spray painted brown. Then she sits at a table, on which are what appear to be an inkwell and an old book. She doesn’t speak to the people who stare at her or ask her questions. But when someone puts money in a basket sitting beside the table, she slowly removes a tiny scroll from the old book, which is actually a box, and gives it to the donor. Inside each scroll is a quotation from Dickinson’s poetry.

Staying motionless for as long as two hours at the market isn’t easy. She said the key is slowing down her thought processes and entering a kind of meditative state. She can go for 30 seconds without blinking, she said, but she sometimes moves her eyes to get people to stop and look, she said.

‘Best ego boost’

Lowry, who graduated from the Four Rivers Charter School in Greenfield in May, first performed locally when she was 9, in “The Captivation of Eunice Williams” in Deerfield. She conceived the Dickinson act after hearing about living statue performers in other cities, including Northampton, where a woman dressed up in a silver costume has been seen standing motionless downtown. She decided to portray Dickinson not so much because she admires her poetry but because it seemed appropriate in Amherst to portray the town’s most famous citizen.

“I’m on the fence about her as a person,” Lowry said. “I thought she was a little weird, staying in her room and writing poems.”

She enjoys watching people’s reactions to her, but it’s also a job. On a good day, Lowry said, she can make $25 an hour in donations, and has done two-hour sittings at the farmers market about 15 times in the past year. That’s more than she makes in her part-time job in a cosmetics lab in Brattleboro.

Though she said she would like to perform in a circus someday, she also wants to go to college and study engineering.

Aside from the money, Lowry said there are other compensations to her still-life performance as Emily Dickinson.

“It’s nice to have an excuse to be outside for a couple of hours, and it’s also a really good feeling to see people walking by,” she said. “They come up and say I look beautiful, so it’s the best ego boost ever.”

Lowry said she’s improved her act in the past year and interacts with people better than she used to. She said she loves doing the act, though hot summer days can be tough to endure in her long dress and makeup.

Family of performers

The main room of the Sunderland house where Lowry lives with her parents and two sisters looks like a backstage dressing room. A sewing machine sits on a table covered with bits of fabric, a unicycle is propped near a dressmaker’s dummy, and the floor looks like part of a basketball court (it was salvaged when a new gym floor was put in at Amherst Regional High School).

Lowry’s sisters are performers, too. Fiona, 20, graduated from the circus center in Brattleboro where Susannah studies, and is now a coach there. Bridget, 15, is in an advanced youth performance group at the center.

Their mother, Janet Lowry, is the office manager at the circus center, which has 35 students in a professional program that includes acts like trapeze and juggling. Susannah’s area of focus there is the “German wheel,” a large circular piece of metal that she performs tricks on while it rolls around.

“My kids didn’t need to run away to join the circus — they just needed a ride,” said Janet Lowry.

At 7 a.m., about an hour before showtime at the farmers market, she was helping Susannah transform from a teenager into a 19th-century poet.

Because it was a cold morning, Susannah had put on two pairs of tights and two shirts underneath her dress. Janet helped put the makeup on the back of her neck. First came a base of black theatrical makeup, then a copper-colored coating.

Last on was the wig, which was created for a male actor in a period play, and tailored by Susannah into a bun and spray-painted.

Then Janet and Susannah got into a Honda Fit with a bumper sticker reading “Warning: Zombie on board” and headed to Amherst.

Captures Amherst

At the Town Common, Lowry set up near a table of Elizabeth Warren supporters. Janet sat a discreet distance away and read a biography of Cleopatra. On hot days she brings her daughter water to drink, and during the Taste of Amherst she had to fight off a group of drunks who were not showing proper respect for Emily Dickinson, she said. Last Saturday, a young boy walking by was so transfixed by her that he bumped into a sign, she said.

“It’s the best people-watching I’ve ever done,” Janet said.

About half the people who stopped to watch Lowry admitted later that at first they thought she really was a statue. The other half had seen her act before or had seen “living statues” in Boston, New York, Provincetown or Amsterdam and realized what was going on.

Ben Roberts, a University of Massachusetts student visiting downtown with his mother, said he appreciated Lowry’s performance.

“It captures the atmosphere of the area really well,” he said. “Emily Dickinson represents the offbeatness of Amherst, and it’s cool to see the statue. It brings literature and history more to life.”

Robbie Vorhaus said he found Lowry inspiring and amusing and contributing to the culture of Amherst.

“I love people who follow their heart, and get out of bed and want to change the world,” he said. “Just as these farmers are trying to make the planet a better place, she’s gently changing the world by providing good, sustainable entertainment.”

Douglas Raybeck wasn’t fooled by the impersonation, but was concerned that Lowry might be cold. “Do you have a thermal outfit on under that?” he asked, but Lowry just kept gazing straight ahead.

Russ Fox of Pulaski, N.Y., who was visiting his grandson at Amherst College, said he told Lowry she looked “enticing and provocative” and resembled how Dickinson might have looked while alone with her thoughts.

“She’s something else,” said Helen Lee of Amherst. “I thought it was a statue. I kept looking at her and she blinked.”

Gloria Cheney of Lancaster, Pa., got husband Wally to take a picture of her with Lowry. “You’re very believable as a statue,” she told her.

As they were leaving she said, “Emily, goodbye, it’s been nice seeing you.” Emily nodded.

Nick Grabbie is a staff reporter for the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

Jerrey Roberts is a staff photographer of the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

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