New Exhibit Looks at a Centuries-Old Wabanaki Craft

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The Abbe Museum is excited to announce a new exhibit coming to its main gallery in April 2018, Emergence - Root Clubs of the Penobscot Nation. This exhibit celebrates a uniquely Wabanaki art form, a centuries-old craft that has frequently been dismissed by museums and academics as not “traditionally” Wabanaki. The exhibit opens on Friday, April 6, 2018, and an opening reception will be held that evening from 5-7 pm.

“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. “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. 

Root clubs have been viewed by museums and anthropologists as “tourist art,” not “traditional” enough to warrant a place in museums. Decades of research by exhibit curators Stan Neptune and Joan Lester have built the body of evidence to show that this uniquely Wabanaki form, in fact, is very much a part of Wabanaki traditions going back centuries or more. And while new styles have been created over the years to support an economy tied to tourism, the earlier forms have continued and are still being made today.

The curators, together with team members from the Abbe, are sharing for the first time what they have learned from more than 600 extant Penobscot root clubs, many still in private collections. The exhibit will include more than 50 clubs, plus images and other artifacts to illustrate:

  • the history and evolution of this diverse art form
  • how the root club has been and still is made
  • stories of root club carvers covering more than two centuries
  • how museum attitudes towards root clubs have shaped collections
  • and how private collectors came to value and protect these critical pieces of cultural heritage. 

As with all projects, the Abbe’s decolonizing vision is paramount with this exhibit. Through representation of this art form, based on the experience and shared knowledge of a Penobscot carver and information from Wabanaki carvers and culture-keepers over the centuries, the story of Penobscot root clubs will emerge as it should have long ago. 

The opening reception on April 6, from 5-7 pm, is open to Abbe members, donors, and sponsors. To receive an invitation, please email or call 207-288-3519. Guests are invited to celebrate with curatorial staff, artists, and fellow supporters while snacking on refreshments from local eateries. 

This exhibit is made possible by the generous support from the following:

Anonymous Foundation
Bangor Savings Bank Foundation
Fisher Charitable Foundation
Hattie A. and Fred C. Lynam Trust
Mr. and Mrs. Douglas and Ann Sharpe

The Abbe Museum's winter hours will be in effect through April, with the Museum open Thursdays through Saturdays, 10 am to 4 pm. The Museum is open seven days a week from May 1–October 31st every year.

Thank you for Coming Home

The grand opening of our 2015 feature exhibit, Coming Home, was a huge success. This exhibit was five years in the making, and it was incredible having so many of you under one roof celebrating with us. A special thank you to our friends, generous donors, impressive Board of Trustees, tenacious staff, and supportive volunteers. We are able to do what we do because of all of you.

Museum Educator George Neptune, Passamaquoddy, opened the reception with a blessing.

Julia Clark, director of collections & interpretation, talked about how we were able to make Coming Home happen.

Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, Abbe president and CEO, praised all those responsible for making the exhibit such a success.

A delicious spread of food was provided by the Culinary Arts Committee.

Abbe Museum’s 2015 Feature Exhibit Brings Wabanaki Artifacts Home

Coming Home consists of collections from museums in the northeastern United States

The Abbe Museum, the first and only Smithsonian Affiliate in the state of Maine, will open its 2015 feature exhibit, Coming Home, on February 5, 2015. This exciting and beautiful exhibit reveals a greater depth of information about historical Wabanaki objects through the traditional knowledge of working with Native community curators.
“This exhibit is not only a chance to learn through traditional and cultural knowledge, but to see amazing objects that are coming back to Maine after decades or centuries away,” said Julia Clark, director of collections & interpretation. “Wabanaki community curators chose an intriguing and diverse selection of objects, many very different from those in the Abbe's collection. This exhibit is a unique opportunity for our visitors to learn about Wabanaki culture directly from Wabanaki people and objects, rather than filtered through the lens of the museum curator.” 
From baskets to beadwork, woodcarvings to birchbark canoes, tools or artwork, many pieces of Wabanaki material culture have ended up in museums far away from the Wabanaki homeland, where it is difficult for community members to see these pieces of their history and culture. In recent years, the Abbe has spoken with several Wabanaki people about Micmac, Maliseet, Penobscot, and Passamaquoddy collections residing in museums outside of Maine, and whether it would it be possible to bring pieces “home” for a while so that community members could study them more closely.

Wabanaki community curators worked with Abbe curatorial staff to select and borrow objects from museums in the northeastern United States between Philadelphia and Maine. Throughout the exhibit, community curators share thoughts, ideas, and perspectives about the objects they selected, which broadens the interpretation and enriches understanding.
“Familiar objects can often trigger memories and spur curiosity,” said Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, Abbe Museum’s president and CEO. “It’s the Abbe’s hope that this exhibit is a beginning, and that there will be future exhibits where pieces journey back from farther afield - across the United States and Canada, into Europe, and perhaps beyond.”
An opening reception, which is free and open to the public, will be held on February 5, 2015 from 5 – 7 pm.

Coming Home will be in the main gallery through the end of the year. Winter hours are Thursday through Saturday, 10 am to 4 pm. Admission is free through April thanks to the generosity of Machias Savings Bank.

Twisted Path III: Questions of Balance opening

On Thursday, February 6, the Abbe opened the doors to the new feature exhibit, Twisted Path III: Questions of Balance, and that evening the hallways of the museum were flooded with excitement as guests poured in to celebrate the new exhibit. Several of the artists were in attendance, and partygoers had the opportunity to hear them speak about their artistic works. It was truly an exceptional evening, with remarks given by Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, President and CEO, Rick Hunt, Guest Curator and Twisted Path creator and artists, and Patricia Michaels, fashion designer from the Taos Pueblo and finalist on Project Runway, Season 11. Delicious food graciously prepared by the Abbe’s Culinary Arts Committee capped-off the evening. Thank you to everyone who attended! The new exhibit could not have received a more enthusiastic reception.

This exhibit is made possible thanks to support from the Sharpe Family Foundation/Douglas & Ann Sharpe, an Anonymous Foundation, the Fisher Charitable Foundation, and the Hattie A. & Fred C. Lynam Trust. Corporate sponsorship comes from The First Bank, with additional support from the Maine Arts Commission, Bar Harbor Bank & Trust, MPBN, and the Bangor Daily News.