When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.Ansel Adams
Some towns have a mayor. Some towns also have a sheriff. But only New Hope, PA has its own Marshall, Denise Marshall, the mistress of New Hope’s virtual domain. If the “Community of New Hope” Facebook page was a party, Denise would be the MC. If it was a boxing ring, she would be the referee. For a new member like me, the Facebook Community Page is a little bit of both, a party and a boxing ring. Since it is New Hope, the party tends to be extra colorful. “This is what happens when you have a town full of creative, strong minded people. Emotions run high and things can get out of hand,” says Denise.
But don’t worry, Denise who took it upon herself to be the administrator of New Hope’s Facebook community page runs it under strict guidelines and supervision. Religion, politics, fighting and rudeness are not tolerated. Non-profits are able to promote themselves on #GivingTuesdays and local businesses are permitted to promote themselves on #CreativeWednesday. Members are only allowed to join the group if they live or work in and close to town. For Denise, just like in an Ansel Adams photo, it’s either black or white, “if you break the rules, you are out.” Discussions are about day to day life and issues, from roads needing to be repaired to sharing contacts and ideas. Denise’s enforcement of the page rules is uncompromising and she has received some flak for that from the less savvy Facebook users who don’t always get what “netiquette” is all about. Again and again, she reminds members about the rules and their importance for protecting the community. “We want to keep New Hope clean and beautiful, both in the real world and in the virtual one.”
On a nice afternoon, I meet Denise at one of her favorite spots, Saxby’s in Peddler’s Village. It’s the second time I have met her and I feel comfortable enough to ask her some tough questions.
Managing the New Hope Facebook community page is a 24/7 job with no pay and a good share of grief. Why did you take it upon yourself?
“For me, it’s a way to give back to the community. Social media has taken over the role of the traditional town square. This is where we meet our neighbors, exchange ideas, ask questions and make announcements. I was educated at Newtown Friends School and the George School. My Quaker education taught me a lot about the importance of working together for the common good and community. My boss at Massachusetts General Hospital in the department of Orthopaedic Oncology instilled in me the sense of giving back and this is one of my ways in doing so for the community I love. I appreciate the individual people who make our community what it is, listening respectfully to one another and the joy in giving back. “
Later in the conversation, Denise reveals that she has another strong conviction that keeps her going and it has to do with the changes coming to town and the rejuvenation of New Hope.
While working on building websites for local businesses, under the guise of Blue Skies Above WebCenters, a company she started, Denise makes time to engage in volunteer work for the Bucks County Chapter of the Fox Chase Cancer Center and organize community business meetups. All these activities have led to strong ties to people throughout the region and a wide web of connections.
Having grown up around here, raising your family here and being so engaged, it’s like you know the community from every dimension. Do you feel that New Hope has changed?
“Yes, absolutely! New Hope has had many changes over the 30 plus years that I have lived in the community. I look at the town as if it were an onion, each layer is a change and I see it is changing yet again!” Denise exclaims. “Fifteen years ago I was not so optimistic about the future of the town. I used to call it No Hope because I felt it needed love. For me, the town’s DNA was about the arts, music, culture, farmland and nature. Unfortunately, something got lost along the way. In the 90’s the town grew and became overdeveloped and lost touch with its core identity. Galleries and music disappeared or moved across the bridge. You just can’t fake authenticity. People will call your bluff right away. ”
So, what has changed?
The new ownership of the Bucks County Playhouse is a group of people that took it upon themselves to steer the town in a new direction. Together with the upcoming opening of the Music Mountain Theatre in Lambertville and the restoration of the canal, you can really feel the effects of change in the air. I feel the arts, culture and music are coming back to our area and so are the people with new energy. I believe that this positive change has started a ripple effect across the bridge.”
Is there anything New Hope can do better?
We need more diversity in our community.
From an early age, Denise had to cope with a rare, difficult, medical condition. When we touch on that subject, I sensed something in her strong-minded, tough image crack a bit. “Since I was a child,” Denise pauses, wiping her eyes and continues,” Doctors always wanted to photograph me for their research and treatments. I felt like photography was always a part of my life and I became intrigued with it. It was a great way to channel my creativity with all my medical challenges. I started to explore photography further and while in college, I decided to leave the predictable, liberal arts path and pursue my true passion.”
She transferred from Boston University to Rochester Institute of Technology where she majored in Narrative, Documentary and Editorial photography with a minor in Medical Photography. “It was a way for me to work in photography while simultaneously hold a job that gives back to people.” Denise worked at Massachusetts General Hospital in the Department of Orthopaedic Oncology for several years as the Medical Photographer. Then moved to Philadelphia and started the Medical Photography department at Hahnemann University. Upon the birth of her first child, she moved out to New Hope where she settled with her family. “I knew I had to re-invent myself, photography was my passion, I felt comfortable with technology and computers.” As an autodidact, teaching herself the trade, transitioning to building and designing websites and managing social media came naturally and it was an easy transition for Denise.
I am sure the next step will be the electronic image, and I hope I shall live to see it. I trust that the creative eye will continue to function, whatever technological innovations may develop.Ansel Adams
WHEN IN NEW HOPE, DO AS THE LOCALS
Denise’s guide to local living
If you are out of town or on a date, go to The Boat House in Lambertville for a drink. The atmosphere is great
The Wine Cellar in Lambertville has great flights of wine and delicious appetizers.
Finkles Hardware store is the world’s most unusual hardware store you will see. This legendary store, managed today by Rachel and Sven has a lot of charm and it’s a great place to get inspired about projects.
A place to grab Coffee
Saxbys Coffee in Peddler’s Village. Free parking (a sore point inside New Hope) and it is cozy during the wintertime to sit by the fireplace.
I like to park my car outside of the Bowman’s Wild Flower Preserve and walk the trails with my camera. It is absolutely beautiful.
Favorite Pizza Place
My favorite Pizza place in New Hope is Spatola’s. They have the best tomato sauce for the pizza’s and they deliver.
Anton’s at the Swan, the atmosphere and food are great. You can sit outside and enjoy a great meal and drinks just over the bridge in Lambertville.
I looked at your web portfolio and you have built many unique and beautiful websites. Is there any site in particular you like to brag about?
I am most proud of the work that allows me to express my creativity, especially if I get to do the photography for the site. For example mycustomlogcutting.com I had the opportunity to see how they cut trees and turn them into furniture to photograph the process. That was a lot of fun. And keep an eye out for the Music Mountain Theatre’s website as that is in the works. I am excited!”
If you could build a website for anyone in the world, who would that be?
“Ansel Adams. I would have loved to build his website because black and white photography excites me.”
I thanked Denise for her time and drove to my office. My smartphone alerted me that there are 11 new unread messages in the New Hope Facebook community page. Apparently, there is a big storm coming and The Great Snow Challenge, organized by a community member, in which any member can try to guess the amount of snowfall in town and win a prize, is on. The winner will have to guess the exact amount of snow.
There’s nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy conceptAnsel Adams