The Frank T. Siebert Collection, which had been on long-term loan to the Abbe Museum for approximately 10 years, was withdrawn by the owner last year, and put up for auction at Skinner Auctions in September 2011. A group was formed, the Penobscot Material Culture Collaborative, to come up with strategies and funds to save as much of the collection as possible for the public trust and for the Penobscot Nation- to keep the collection in public institutions and not lose it to private collections and dealers. The Abbe provided a variety of support for the collaborative, but did not have funds to offer for the effort at the time.
Link to more information about the Frank T. Siebert Collection:
The Frank T. Siebert Collection of Native American Art, by Rebecca Cole-Will, American Indian Art Magazine, Summer 2004
The auction was not particularly successful, with many items selling at well below their estimated value, and a number of lots not even reaching their reserve. The Hudson Museum was able to purchase a variety of lots, primarily lower cost lots with more cultural/historical/interpretive value. A pool of funds from the Penobscot Nation, the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance and the Bangor Museum & Center for History was used to purchase one of the top priority pieces, a woven basswood bark bag, which is now owned by MIBA and stored and exhibited at the Hudson. The Maine State Museum went to the auction with funds, but was unable to purchase their top priority item.
A month or so after the auction, the Maine State Museum was contacted by the owner offering to sell any of the remaining lots directly, with the sale handled by Skinner. They were able to purchase two important items from the collection- a wampum collar and a set of wool leggings with elaborate bead and ribbon work. The Abbe heard through MIBA and the Hudson Museum that the remaining lots were being offered for sale, and contacted Skinner to inquire. We offered amounts well below the auction estimates, and with several very small adjustments, our offers were accepted.
This means that the large majority, if not all, of the Penobscot material from the collection that remained unsold after the auction has now been acquired by Maine museums and will come home to Maine, joining the important acquisitions made during the auction.
While we all regret that a number of very significant pieces from the collection are now gone into private collections and no longer accessible to the Penobscot Nation or the wider Maine community, many pieces from the collection were saved for the public trust, and will remain here in Maine, where they belong, accessible to the Penobscot people, in perpetuity.
Click here to learn more about the Abbe Museum's acquisitions.
We are pleased to share this summary of the new acquisitions:
Lot 286, Red Stroud Leggings, mid-19th century
|Lot 286, Red Stroud Leggins|
|Portrait of Francis Stanislaus in leggings|
These leggings were part of the Stanislaus family regalia, passed down through at least two generations. Probably made in the mid-19th century, we see a young Francis wearing them in a studio portrait taken in the later part of the century. The collar and cuffs were sold at the September auction (to unknown buyers), but the pieces worn here as a belt were acquired by the Maine State Museum. The Stanislaus family was part of a small Penobscot community that lived most of the time in the Lincoln, Maine area. They were among Siebert's key language informants. Francis's father Stephen Stanislaus was governor of the Penobscot Nation off and on during the 1870s and 1880s.
Lot 310, Sylvia Stanislaus medal
|Lot 310, Sylvia Stanislaus medal|
This medal was given to Sylvia Stanislaus by the governor of Maine, Louis Brann, on the occasion of her 100th birthday in 1936. Sylvia is shown in the studio portrait to the right. The wampum collar seen in this photo was acquired by the Maine State Museum.
Lot 322, Seven beaded cloth items
|Lot 322, Seven beaded cloth items|
Frank Siebert cultivated long-term friendships with his Native language teachers. He commissioned the top five examples of beadwork from Lewis Lolar (or Lola). He and his wife, Elizabeth, lived on Indian Island and made baskets and beadwork. Mr. Lolar also served as Lt. Governor during the 1930s. We do not have any provenance on the green piece at the bottom. While not among the most aesthetically pleasing beadwork in the Siebert Collection, their direct relationship to an important Penobscot individual, and his important relationship with Siebert, make them culturally and historically important.
Lot 293, Cradleboard hoop
|Lot 293, Cradleboard hoop|
|From Frank Speck|
This cradleboard hoop's carvings hint at the elaborate scroll-work that would be present on the board from which it came. This is a particularly fine and well-executed example of late 19th - early 20th century Penobscot carving. Unfortunately, we do not know what happened to the rest of the cradleboard. This piece documents an important tradition of fine woodcarving among Penobscot artisans that continues today with the work of carvers such as Stan Neptune, Joe Dana, Richard Love and Eric Sappier. The photo shows an example of a finely carved cradleboard documented by Frank Speck in the early 20th century.
Lot 302, Band Box Basket, ca. 1865
|Lot 302, Band Box Basket|
This ash splint basket is a form created in the mid-19th century by Wabanaki basketmakers to sell to non-Native customers. Penobscot basketmakers were inspired by hat storage boxes to make storage baskets. They could be stored beneath a high bed and were ideal for stagecoach and packet travelers who desired a light, strong traveling trunk (Fannie Hardy Eckstorm 1931). Some Wabanaki families put them to the same use. This piece probably came from the Stanislaus family. At least two other band box baskets from the collection were purchased by the Hudson Museum at the September auction.
Lot 303, Shopper basket, by Joseph Gabriel, ca.1936
|Lot 303. Shopper basket, by Joseph Gabriel, ca. 1936|
This basket, commonly referred to as a market or shopper basket, is an extraordinarily well documented early 20th century ash splint basket. While the Abbe Museum may have some comparable baskets, the fact that the maker of this basket is known makes it quite important. Until the 1980s, basketmakers did not sign their work (some still hesitate to do so), and so in the large majority of earlier baskets, the maker will never be known. With a little additional research, we may well be able to learn more about Joseph Gabriel and put a face with this basket.
Lot 321, Wooden items
|Lot 321, Wooden Items|
The three items in this lot represent a mix of Penobscot material culture. The use and history of the wooden bowl is unknown, but it may have been used to play a dice game similar to Waltes, where two-sided, disk-shaped dice of bone or antler are placed in the bowl, the bowl is struck against the floor/ground, and scoring is based on how many dice land on each face of the disks. The cradleboard may be a rough reproduction made for Siebert as part of his research, and does not appear to have been used. The miniature snowshoes are typical "tourist art," a small-scale version of a traditional Penobscot item that was sold to tourists and visitors as a souvenir, or possibly as a toy.
Lot 298, Four birchbark items
|Lot 298, Four birchbark items|
These four objects are a mix of Wabanaki and other eastern Woodlands craft. The birchbark dish and picture frame are typical "tourist art" forms of the first part of the 20th century. Both are forms that are not well-represented in the Abbe's collection, and useful to telling the stories like those encountered in the Indians & Rusticators exhibit. The two quilled boxes are not Wabanaki, but are from related groups. The round box with the beaver on the lid was made by the Ojibwe of Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron. There is actually a strong link between the Ojibwe and the Wabanaki- Ojibwe origin stories tell of them moving into the Great Lakes area from a land to the east next to the ocean, where the Waban were left behind to defend the continent from a future threat foretold in their stories, now believed to refer to the arrival of Europeans. Ojibwe cultural and spiritual leaders have been working with the Passamaquoddy over the last several years to better understand the Machias Bay petroglyphs, as much of the symbolism has been maintained in Ojibwe culture. The oval box is believed to be Odawa, a related group, and both were likely made in the 1930s.
Lot 317, Four wooden clubs
|Lot 317, Four wooden clubs|
While two of the items in this lot, the ball headed clubs on the top and bottom, are likely not Wabanaki, the other two items have educational value for the Abbe. The upper middle piece is a genuine archaeological stone ax/adz head that has been hafted onto a modern handle. While at the Abbe, this piece has been used in the exhibit at Sieur de Mont to show what a stone tool like this would look like when hafted to a handle, which is often diffifult for our visitors to visualize when only the stone is present. The lower middle piece is another piece of "tourist art," a roughly made stone head lashed to a painted, chip-carved handle with beaded fringe. The chip-carving on the handle is Penobscot in style. Pieces such of this may have been popular souvenirs for visitors to Indian Island or to the Wabanaki encampments on MDI and around the state.
Lot 320, Seven hide items
|Lot 320, Seven hide items|
While several of these items are marginal to the Wabanaki, they have educational value for the Abbe. Items made of animal hide (primarily moose and deer) would have been common in traditional Wabanaki material culture, but are poorly represented in our collection.
The plain hide pouch to the left actually held the wampum pieces from the collection when they arrived at the Abbe in 2001, so is quite likely Penobscot. The two pairs of moccasins are Montagnais and were collected at Lake St. John (Pointe Bleue), Quebec while Seibert was doing linguistic research there. They are probably not all that different from traditional Penobscot footwear. The fur pouch on the right is decorated with dyed moosehair tufting, and is Huron. Women of the Huron-Wendat village in Loretteville, Quebec had a long tradition of working with moosehair as an embroidery material. Based on other examples in the Siebert and other collections, Huron moosehair embroidery pieces were sold at Native encampments in coastal Maine, either by Huron families who traveled here, or by Wabanaki who traded for the items. The parfleche in the middle is not traditional to the northeast, and is clearly a later 20th century reproduction, again probably "tourist art."