Abbe Museum Awarded $150,000 Grant

The Abbe Museum has been awarded a $150,000 Museums for America grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The grant is 1 of 217 awarded to museum projects across the US – totaling more than $25 million – and will fund the design, fabrication, and installation of the Abbe’s new permanent exhibit,  People of the First Light, which will open in the spring of 2016.

“We are beyond excited about this opportunity, especially because of what it means for the Abbe in terms of preparing for the immediate future,” said Abbe President/CEO Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko. “During the course of the past year in planning for our new strategic plan, numerous community conversations occurred and some of those resulted in identifying specific financial sustainability strategies that influence our exhibit planning efforts. The conversations all pointed to the need for a permanent exhibit, and thanks to IMLS, we’ll be able to give our visitors and communities exactly what they asked for!”

Located in the Abbe’s downtown Bar Harbor facility, the exhibit will occupy approximately 2,100 square feet. Its content, artifacts, images, and interactive and participatory elements will be informed by the Abbe’s recently adopted interpretive framework and input from its Native Advisory Council and Native advisors.

People of the First Light will use design and content to bring the visitor into the Wabanaki universe. The cyclical nature of time will be strongly reflected in the design of the exhibit, and time depth will be presented in a non-linear pattern. The exhibit will incorporate the many ways of knowing about Wabanaki history and culture.

“Thanks to this grant, the Abbe will enhance current and future exhibit and programmatic interpretations, expose visitors to multiple voices in presenting information about the Wabanaki people – with the Wabanaki voice as the primary one – and give visitors an understanding of how the colonization of Maine has impacted and continues to impact the Wabanaki people and their culture,” said Julia Clark, director of collections and interpretation.  

While the exhibit is considered permanent (15-20 year cycle), it will be constructed so that topics can be easily updated to reflect changing events, and the evolving conversations with Wabanaki advisors will be a guide if updates are needed. Audiences will find their experience relevant and engaging each time they visi People of the First Light.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums. Its mission is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. IMLS’s grant making, policy development, and research help libraries and museums deliver valuable services that make it possible for communities and individuals to thrive. To learn more, visi

Greatest Mountain on Display at the Abbe Museum

The exhibit, a vision by Penobscot artist and historian James Francis, is a tribute to Mount Katahdin 

The Abbe Museum, the first and only Smithsonian Affiliate in the state of Maine, is pleased to announce the opening of Greatest Mountain, a tribute to Mount Katahdin. Curated by Penobscot artist and historian James Francis, the exhibit is a combination of research, both through Penobscot histories and accounts of non-Native travelers and writers, with images, music, stories, and the Penobscot language, all of which bring this sacred mountain to life. Greatest Mountain will be in the Abbe’s main gallery through August 2015.

“Greatest Mountain is the fascinating and engaging result of James's unique perspective as an artist, historian, guide, and Penobscot tribal member,” said Julia Clark, director of collections & interpretation at the Abbe. “Together, these result in a view of Katahdin unlike any other.”

Katahdin translates from Penobscot to English as “Greatest Mountain.” While some say this reflects the fact that Katahdin is the highest mountain in Maine, Francis points out that when the mountain was given this name by the Penobscot people, Maine and its boundaries did not exist, and the Wabanaki people were certainly familiar with higher mountains in their traditional territory, in what is now New Hampshire.

Images move and flicker across Greatest Mountain, a compilation of time-lapse photographs taken by Francis at night back in November 2014. The images were captured from Millinocket Lake, looking toward Katahdin’s south face. Francis went to the mountain and set up his camera to take repeated 6-second exposures. When he came back to the camera in the middle of the night, he discovered a wonderful, additional gift: the northern lights had come out to frame the mountain. Along with these time-lapse photographs, there is a song composed by Francis, various other video and still imagery, and spoken word pieces of Penobscot people sharing stories.

Greatest Mountain will be in the main gallery of the Museum’s downtown Bar Harbor location through August. Open daily from 10 am to 5 pm, admission is $8 per adult, $7 for senior citizens, $4 for children ages 11 – 17, and children 10 and under are free. Admission is free to Native Americans and Abbe members.

Honoring Kikehtahsuwiw: It Heals during Women's History Month

April marks the final month to see the first exhibit curated by Abbe Museum Educator George Neptune, Passamaquoddy.  Kikehtahsuwiw: It Heals is a story about several women in the Passamaquoddy Tribe, residing at both Motahkomikuk (Indian Township) and Sipayik (Pleasant Point). Each of these women shares a common goal: healing their communities.

"I grew up at Township for most of my life. I was taken from my mother when I was three months old—I was told that she left me in a crib for three days, with no food or water. My aunt found me, barely alive, and they took me away. That was the first time I went to my foster family. I was nine when I was taken to my biological father’s house, and was there for just a few short months. I went to another foster family, where I suffered a lot of abuse.
I discovered drinking as a teenager—as most teenagers do—but it was never really a problem for me. After my second son was born and passed away, I didn’t care anymore. And after my daughter was born, I got into the drugs. I stayed into the drugs for eleven years, doing anything from snorting to I.V. use. Once my children were living with their fathers, I’d lost everything. I moved in with one of the biggest drug dealers around. 
The drum really helped me on my road to recovery. The drum is very powerful medicine in and of itself. My partner said we needed female voices in another group, so I said I would try. I just wanted to be around the drum. They took me to a drum practice on Indian Island, and the power of that drum beat—the music, the vocals that come with drumming—it opened my mind, my spirit to everything around me.
If I didn't have the drum or my partner’s family, I don’t know where I’d be. I always felt the drum at powwows and socials, but I never sat down and learned the songs—the words, and what they mean. The combination of it all was very powerful for me. I owe a lot to that family—they are an amazing family. They’ll help anybody. For them to take an interest in me, and to show me the right way, the right path that I should be on—that was amazing." April Tomah, Passamaquoddy at Indian Township

"I think it’s important for us to remember that we are matriarchal people. That is who we have been for thousands of years. The fact that women’s role has been diminished over the last 500 years is not our way, it’s the Western culture’s way. And if we’re going to truly survive, we need to get to the point where we respect our women, we believe in our women, and we take care of our women. We are the ones who have been entrusted as givers of life. I’m not saying that men’s roles are diminished, we just need to be reflective of and remember who we are. I think that’s important." Elizabeth Neptune, Passamaquoddy at Indian Township

"Women are still the leading force here. We’re a matriarchal society, and people have always followed the women’s lead. I think the women are still pretty strong in that—it’s set in our DNA. Women were the givers of life, we nurtured the children, and today, we’re really still pushing to make our people complete again. We’re the caregivers—if there’s going to be healing, we’re the ones to do it. I’m not saying that men are any less, because we’re all equal, but that’s what our role is. We’ve been given a very special gift, by being able to give life—we’re Life Givers, and with that comes great responsibility. Whenever I go to something having to do with community members voicing concerns, I take a look around, and I always see more women." Plansowes Dana, Passamaquoddy at Sipayik 

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.

Coming Home

Our 2015 feature exhibit is an invitation to Wabanaki people to re-connect with familiar and unfamiliar material culture. It is an invitation to our museum visitor to consider what objects make memory for all of us. It is an invitation to consider what it means to return memories and meaning to people, to home lands. More details will be revealed soon!

Abbe Museum Exhibit Focuses on Women as Healers

First-time curator and Museum Educator, George Neptune, tells a story of strength and love

The Abbe Museum, the first and only Smithsonian Affiliate in the state of Maine, is pleased to announce the opening of the Kikehtahsuwiw: It Heals exhibit, the first exhibit curated by Abbe Museum Educator George Neptune, Passamaquoddy. A special blessing for Kikehtahsuwiw will be given on Thursday, February 5, 2015 at 5 pm as part of the grand opening for the Abbe’s 2015 feature exhibit, Coming Home.

Kikehtahsuwiw: It Heals is a story about several women in the Passamaquoddy Tribe, residing at both Motahkomikuk (Indian Township) and Sipayik (Pleasant Point). Each of these women shares a common goal: healing their communities.

As a matriarchal society, women are more than just the heads of the family. As the providers and protectors of life itself, women are sacred. Capable of enduring so much pain on behalf of their children in infinite ways, they represent the healing strength of love itself. As the carriers of life, they are also carriers of culture and responsible for carrying on healing traditions.
“By sharing this story, I hope to show the strength of our people,” said Neptune. “These women are just a few of many who work every day to heal within our communities. It is my hope that when you read their stories, you also are, in some way, healed.”
Storytelling is a crucial practice in countless Native American cultures. Many tribes did not use a written language system, so storytellers were the keepers of history, knowledge, and tradition. Stories were meant to teach, whether about creation, survival, respect, or even magic.

The portraits in the Kikehtahsuwiw: It Heals exhibit were photographed by Thom Willey.

The Abbe is currently closed until February 5, 2015. Winter hours are Thursday through Saturday, 10 am to 4 pm. Admission is free through April thanks to the generosity of Machias Savings Bank.

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.

Currently at the Abbe Museum

Twisted Path III: Questions of Balance, invites audiences to consider Native American concerns about the environment through the medium of contemporary art. Artists’ works express emotional and cultural reflections on the status of our planet—both comfort from a sense of place and connections to the land, and the conflicts inherent in cultural genocide and pollution of sacred spaces.

Many of Twisted Path III’s artists have work available for purchase in the Abbe Shop, such as raw silk, handpainted scarves by Patricia Michaels; silver jewelry by Shane Perley Dutcher; baskets by Gabriel Frey, and twine baskets by Vera Longtoe Sheehan.

Four Directions of Wabanaki Basketry, located in our unique Circle of the Four Directions, offers a place of quiet reflection for visitors to the Museum.

The exhibit features a basket from each of the Wabanaki tribal communities: the eastern basket made by a Maliseet child, the southern baskets made by Passamaquoddy women, the western basket made by a Penobscot man, and the northern basket by a Micmac elder. Visitors will also hear the creation story of Koluskap and the Ash Tree in the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy/Maliseet, and Micmac languages.

Made possible through the generosity of John and Ruth Overton.

150th Thoreau-Wabanaki Anniversary Canoe Tour. During May 2014, an epic journey took place commemorating the travels of Henry David Thoreau and his Wabanaki Guide, Joe Polis, through the Maine Woods in July of 1857. The Abbe Museum is hosting a photo exhibit that describes a modern-day recreation of Thoreau and Polis’ journey. Curated by Chris Sockalexis, Penobscot Tribal Historic Preservation Officer.

Photo credit, Chris Sockalexis