The inaugural Abbe Museum Indian Market takes place in Bar Harbor May 18-20. The market will support Wabanaki artists and the local community. We’ll discuss the art of the Wabanaki, its effect on the local economy and learn about events taking place to celebrate the inaugural event.
A new exhibit will open in the Abbe Museum’s main gallery on Friday, April 6. An opening reception is set for 5-7 p.m.
“Unlike the ball club, which is very well known and very well published, the Penobscot root club has been almost completely ignored in the history books,” said exhibit curator Stan Neptune, Penobscot.“Emergence — Root Clubs of the Penobscot Nation” celebrates a uniquely Wabanaki art form, a centuries-old craft that has frequently been dismissed by museums and academics as not “traditionally” Wabanaki.
“In the late 19th century when anthropologists started collecting Native American objects, they perceived root clubs as just tourist items. They had no idea of the history. The ‘Emergence’ exhibit will tell that full history.”
The exhibit highlights the diversity of past and contemporary themes found in root club carving. Each club is made out of a sapling, with the slender trunk becoming a chip-carved handle, and the complex wood of the root ball’s burl transformed into evocative representations of people and creatures. Some are painted; some have ornaments attached.
Abbe Museum President and CEO Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko will discuss decolonizing museum practice and encouraging collaboration among indigenous peoples and the museum field at College of the Atlantic’s Human Ecology Forum in McCormick Lecture Hall on Tuesday, Feb. 13, at 4:10 p.m.
The Abbe Museum’s mission is to inspire new learning about the Wabanaki Nations with every visit. In August 2015, the museum completed its most ambitious strategic plan to date, committing to develop and implement decolonizing practices in a museum setting.
During her talk, Catlin-Legutko will discuss that nature of decolonizing museum practice and how it offers opportunities for Wabanaki people to feel connected to the Abbe, promote cultural authority, and encourage collaboration and involvement with and between tribal community members and the museum field. Also, she will discuss the role of the leader in a decolonizing framework, which requires power-sharing skills and a commitment to developing group and personal cultural competencies.
Gabriel Frey separates each layer of ash as if he is peeling an onion. He removes one thin layer after another until he reduces what had been a formidable stick of wood into a small bundle of flexible ribbons. He then narrows each with a hand-held, handmade splitting tool, and weaves the strips seamlessly into one of his ash baskets.
Frey, a Passamaquoddy who works in the basement studio of his Orono home, is busy preparing baskets for seasonal markets in Maine and elsewhere, including several for the Smithsonian Institution, which commissioned him to make baskets for its New York gift shop. He is among a large group of American Indian artists from Maine whose reputations are growing nationally, enhanced by their successes at juried American Indian art markets across the country. For six years, Wabanaki artists from Maine have won top honors at the Santa Fe Indian Market in New Mexico, the largest indigenous art fair in the world. Frey was among three Wabanaki artists to win ribbons at the most recent market in August, snagging a first-place award and an honorable mention.
Patricia Harris and David Lyon in the Boston Globe, November 3, 2017
In November, most of us turn our thoughts to big turkey dinners and first-wave English settlers in long stockings and buckle hats. Conventional Thanksgiving lore does give props to Massasoit and Plymouth-area Wampanoag for bringing most of the food to dinner. But the Pilgrims are only one part of the story. The Wampanoag Homesite at Plimoth Plantation depicts Native life vividly, but here are a half dozen museums that focus exclusively on the indigenous side of New England’s heritage. By the way, they are all closed on Thanksgiving, and some will soon close for the winter.
Abbe Museum, Bar Harbor, ME
In May 2016, the Abbe Museum unveiled “People of the First Light.” The new core exhibit takes its name from the term that many indigenous people of the Northeast — including the five nations of the Wabanaki Confederacy — use to describe themselves. They are the people of the sunrise, and the exhibit likewise marks a new day for the Abbe. Originally a small museum in Acadia National Park, the Abbe opened in 1928 to interpret Native artifacts found around Frenchman Bay. The modern downtown facility now tells a more comprehensive story of 12,000 years of indigenous culture in the Wabanaki homeland, and it does so from a Native perspective.
Tribal historians, artists, and educators advised in exhibit development. Gina Brooks, a Maliseet artist from New Brunswick, created dramatic illustrations of legends and tales from the oral tradition that inform many exhibits. The Abbe’s science and ethnography remain as rigorous as ever, but learning about the continuity of indigenous culture in the voices of the people themselves brings an immediacy to the experience. 26 Mt. Desert St., Bar Harbor, Maine. 207-288-3519, abbemuseum.org. Open through April Thurs.-Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m., closed January. Free until Dec. 22. Otherwise, adults $8, seniors $7, ages 11-17 $4, ages 10 and under free.
Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum, Warner, NH
Founded by Charles and Nancy Thompson, the Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum represents a singular vision of a master collector. Inspired by a school visit from Pequot sachem Silverstar when he was in the second grade, “Bud” Thompson amassed a major collection of artifacts and artwork representing tribes across North America. The museum sits in the homeland of the Abenaki (one of the five peoples of the Wabanaki Confederacy) and about a quarter of the collection represents peoples of the Northeast. Many works chronicle the growth of basketry and beadwork as Native economic mainstays in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The contemporary art gallery features two exhibits each year guest-curated by members of the Native community. 18 Highlawn Road, Warner, N.H. 603-456-2600, indianmuseum.org. Open through Nov. Sat.-Sun. noon-5 p.m. Adults $9, seniors and students $8, ages 6-12 $7, family $26.
Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Museum, Mashpee, MA
Created in 1970, more than three centuries after the establishment of Mashpee as a “praying village,” this compact museum and cultural center occupies a circa-1793 half-Cape home in the historic heart of the Mashpee Wampanoag homeland. (Eighty-five percent of tribal members live within 20 miles.) It sits next to the historic Herring Run, where some Wampanoag still harvest fish in the early spring.
This year the museum has seen a swell of visitors eager to learn more about the Wampanoag. One of the first things they learn is that Wampanoag culture finds many opportunities for thanksgiving throughout the year. The museum focuses principally on the post-1620 era, and on the contributions and achievements of Wampanoag people. A small but fascinating exhibit on Native American whaling is up this fall, but may be coming down next year. Although the museum closes for the winter on Dec. 1, off-season visitors can see a traditional round, bark-covered Wampanoag house on the grounds. 414 Main St., Mashpee. 508-477-9339, MashpeeWampanoagTribe-nsn.gov/museum. Open through Nov. Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Adults $5, ages 6-18 $2, seniors and educators $4, family $10.
Tomaquag Museum, Exeter, RI
You’ll meet a lot of indigenous people in the exhibits at this museum in the heart of Narragansett country. One display features two-time Boston Marathon winner Ellison “Tarzan” Brown. Another sketches the achievements of tribal historian Mary Glasko. Known as Princess Red Wing, she served as a delegate to the United Nations and co-founded the museum in 1958. The last living Narragansett sub-chief, 96-year-old Kenneth “Strong Horse” Smith, donated his turkey feather headdress and other ceremonial clothing for another exhibit. Connections span the generations. A beautiful circa-1850 Narragansett bark canoe hanging from the rafters comes from the family of executive director Lorén Spears.
Continuity is omnipresent. Next to historic Narragansett baskets with now-faded stamped vegetable dye designs is a case showing how a contemporary basketmaker constructs a traditional basket. Everything in the museum seems to have a story, often including the name of the person who made it, wore it, used it, or passed it down. Each quarter, the museum showcases a different contemporary Native artist, many of whom sell their work in the museum’s gift shop. 390 Summit Road, Exeter, R.I. 401-491-9063, tomaquagmuseum.org. Open all year Wed. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sat 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Adults $6, seniors and students $5, children $3.
Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center, Mashantucket, CT
Filling an airy modern building in the woods near Foxwoods Casino, this museum pulls out all the stops to relate the history and flesh out the cultural nuances of what it means to be Pequot. An archaeological dig on the Mashantucket reservation places the earliest settlement as 9,500 years ago, just as the glaciers receded. But the exhibits quickly move on to more recent eras.
When European colonists arrived, the Pequot were a prosperous nation that held sway over large parts of what is now Connecticut. Moving exhibits detail their near-extinction in the 17th century and their dwindling numbers and influence thereafter. This institution shines at teasing out the palpable resilience of people who clung to their identity through all forms of adversity. The exhibits are so thorough and compelling that it is easy to spend half a day here — a small investment of time to become acquainted with a people. 110 Pequot Trail, Mashantucket, Conn. 800-411-9671, pequotmuseum.org. Open through Nov. Tues.-Sat. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Adults $20, seniors and college students $15, ages 6-17 $12.
Nearby, the Mohegan Tribe operates a small museum with a diverse collection of objects from many Northeastern, Plains, and Southwestern tribes. Call the Tantaquidgeon Indian Museum (1819 Norwich-New London Turnpike, Uncasville, Conn., 860-848-3985, mohegan.nsn.us) ahead as opening hours can vary.
Institute for American Indian Studies, Washington, CT
Located on a wooded 15-acre campus in the Litchfield Hills, this museum has carried out more than 500 archaeological excavations in Connecticut since it was founded in 1975. The outdoor replica of an Algonkian Village is an especially evocative large-scale display of woodland life in the period 350-1000 years ago. The museum also works with all five state-recognized tribes (the Mashantucket Pequot, the Eastern Pequot, the Mohegan, the Schaghticoke, and the Paugussett) for contemporary programs. 38 Curtis Road, Washington, Conn. 860-868-0518, iaismuseum.org. Open all year Weds.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m. Adults $10, seniors $8, ages 3-12 $6.
A discussion about policy at the Abbe Museum, Bar Harbor, Maine:
Archaeologists participating in a new advisory committee with the Abbe Museum will discuss the present and future of their field at the Abbe on Sunday, Nov. 5, at 7 p.m.
“The Abbe was founded in 1926 around goals to collect, preserve and interpret the archaeological record of the region, and we have been doing archaeological research in the Wabanaki homeland since 1928,” Julia Gray wrote on the museum’s blog. “However, like most archaeological work in North America, this was not done with any involvement with or consideration for the Wabanaki people themselves for many decades. In recent years, the museum has begun to work more collaboratively on some aspects of our archaeological content, but as a decolonizing museum, we know that we need to do so much more.”
Panelists include Kristen Barnett (Aleut), lecturer in anthropology at Bates College; Dave Putnam, lecturer of science at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, where he teaches anthropology, archaeology, glacial geology and climate change; Paulette Steeves (Cree-Metis), assistant professor indigenous anthropologist-archaeologist at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Canada; and Larry Zimmerman, professor of anthropology and museum studies, public scholar of Native American representation and adjunct professor, Native American and indigenous studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
The archaeological advisory committee is comprised of native archaeologists and others working in the field who will guide the museum’s archaeological research, collections management and interpretation fully into a decolonizing framework.
Folks in Bar Harbor got to experience a little taste of history. The annual Native American Festival and Basketmakers market brought music, dance, and a lesson in culture to Downeast Maine.
“You know Maine a lot of times doesn’t really know much about indigenous population so it’s a wonderful gathering of artisans and drummers and sharing.”
Each handcrafted item represents the beauty and culture of the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot people. For many visitors it’s a chance to meet artists and learn about contemporary Wabanaki art from the Maritimes.
“It’s a wonderful thing to see each other and share our music with them. We are a strong part of Maine history and we would like to bring that back.”