Abbe Museum archaeological field school at Tranquility Farm

The Abbe Museum archaeological field school at Tranquility Farm was a great success again this year. A terrific group of 14 students and volunteers ranging in age from 18 to 70 spent the week carefully excavating five meter-square units, learning about good record keeping and artifact identification, and so much more.

Some of this year’s exciting finds included two large clusters of pottery, a large amount of animal bone, including fish, deer, moose, bear, and dog, and a small number of bone and stone tools. Students took their time as they encountered complicated stratigraphy representing several thousand years of periodic occupation of the site by the Wabanaki. Cultural features uncovered included a fire hearth and some kind of pit/trench feature, as well as stratigraphy we think is associated with the floor of a wigwam structure.

In addition to the field work, this year’s participants experienced the Abbe’s goal to present the first-person voice and perspective of Wabanaki people in all that we do. Evening and lunchtime programs included a presentation on the Machias Bay petroglyphs by Donald Soctomah, Passamaquoddy tribal historic preservation officer, a flint-knapping demonstration by Chris Sockalexis, Penobscot tribal historic preservation officer, a pottery analysis program with an emphasis on agency and indigenous archaeologies with Bonnie Newsom, Penobscot, and a tradition music performance by George Neptune, Abbe Museum educator and Passamaquoddy artist. Students also learned more about freshwater fish in Maine, the identification and analysis of animal bones, and archaeology being done in other parts of North America from other presenters.

This wonderful week of learning would not be possible without the leadership of Dr. Arthur Spiess, senior archaeologist for the state of Maine and Abbe trustee, and Dee Lustusky, long-time Abbe field school participant and stellar volunteer. We also were joined this year by one of our 2013 summer interns, Mark Agostini, who was able to assist folks new to archaeology and continue his own learning in the field. And of course we are incredibly thankful for the support and interest of the extended Tranquility Farm family, especially Boots Liddle, Mary Cox Golden, and Abbe board chair Ann Cox Halkett.

Kci woliwon ciw miluwakonok-Many thanks for your gifts

When I think back to when I traveled to Bar Harbor as a child, I honestly cannot remember the first time I visited the Abbe Museum. I have many memories of visiting Sieur de Monts for demonstrations with my grandmother, and how the first thing I always did upon arrival was enter the museum and look to the right of the display case where my grandmother’s strawberry and acorn baskets were proudly displayed. Eventually, as collections grew and the downtown facility was built, one of my own baskets joined those of my grandmother’s behind the glass display.

George Neptune, courtesy Rogier van Bakel, Eager Eye Photography

The Abbe Museum has been collaborating with Wabanaki artists for generations to create quality programs and exhibits that feature Native voices as the primary perspectives. My great grandmother, Irene Dana, frequently worked with the Abbe in both demonstrations and workshop formats; her daughter and my grandmother, Molly Neptune Parker, continued that tradition. Now the Museum Educator, I am proud to be part of an organization that, before I was even born, invested in my future as a Master Basketmaker.

At this year’s Gathering Gala, I asked those in attendance to support the presence of Native voice as the primary voice at the Abbe Museum. With support from many Native artists and performances by the Burnurwurbskek Singers, this year’s Gala not only highlighted the Wabanaki perspective, but was perhaps our most successful Gala so far. Through the generosity of those that support our mission, we exceeded our fundraising goals.

By supporting the Abbe Museum, you are supporting a groundbreaking organization that not only works to preserve Wabanaki traditions for future generations, but allows Wabanaki people to decide what should be kept.

Through the Abbe Museum, we as Wabanaki people have an opportunity to tell a story that is so frequently forgotten, ignored, or pushed aside: Our story.

Kci woliwon ciw miluwakonok—Many thanks for your gifts.

George Neptune, Passamaquoddy
Museum Educator

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

An Abbe Museum collections mystery SOLVED!

Way back in 1932, Maine folklorist Fannie Hardy Eckstorm published The Handicrafts of the Modern Indians of Maine, Abbe Museum Bulletin III (actually, in 1932 we were still the Lafayette National Park Museum, but that is another story…). In this book she included a photo of a stunning birchbark box from the collection of Walter M. Hardy (her brother).

Decades later in 2003 the Abbe reprinted Eckstorm’s book. We set out to get updated color photos of the pieces featured, but were unable to find this particular piece at the museums with similar collections we contacted. Another decade passed, and in 2012 we got an email from the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, asking if we could tell them anything about a birchbark box they had in there collection, with a photo attached. It was the missing box! Which it turns out had not really been missing, but in the fine care of the Farnsworth since 1952. Another year passes, and we receive a letter from the Farnsworth, informing us that they had decided to deaccession the box (along with another, smaller but as lovely) and transfer them to the Abbe. In May 2014, the transfer happened, and the boxes are now in their new permanent home at the Abbe. The box is thought to be Penobscot, and dates to sometime before 1840.

Time Travel on the Maine Coast

Have you ever wanted to travel back in time, and get a glimpse of Wabanaki life on the coast of Maine thousands of years ago? The Abbe Museum Archaeological Field School gives you the opportunity to do just that. And there are still a few spots left for the 2014 program, so act now or miss out on a truly unique and inspiring experience.

Click here for details about the 2014 Archaeological Field School and a link to the registration form.

No matter your age or experience, the Field School offers the chance to get your hands dirty and uncover evidence of Wabanaki people living on Frenchman Bay over the past several thousand years. Participants learn how to carefully excavate a shell midden site, how to identify the types of artifacts that are uncovered, and how archaeologists analyze the results of excavation. But more than that, you will also spend time learning from Wabanaki scholars and cultural specialists about everything from how to make stone tools, to traditional music, and the importance of language preservation. The Abbe Museum also places a strong emphasis on bringing multiple ways of knowing to understanding Wabanaki history, with archaeology complimented by traditional knowledge, oral traditions, language, and the natural sciences.

The Abbe Museum’s archaeology field School gave me access to Native and non-Native perspectives on past Indigenous settlements and lifeways, enriched by hands-on learning during a week-long excavation on the coast of Maine. I learned more during my week in the field with the Abbe Museum than I could have imagined possible! - Ani St. Amand, 2013 Field School Participant

As a participant in the Field School, you will also contribute to the understanding of a type of archaeological site that is seriously threatened by climate change and rising sea levels. Coastal shell middens like the site excavated during the Field School, may be destroyed by a combination of sea level rise and increasingly powerful storms. Your work is part of an effort to salvage the information contained within these sites before they are gone.

The 2014 Archaeological Field School returns to the Tranquility Farm Site in Gouldsboro, Maine. The site was first excavated by a crew from the Abbe Museum during the 1930s. While these early archaeologists collected lots and lots of cool artifacts, they were not using very advanced excavation techniques, and apparently keeping very few records. This means that the detailed information that could have been gained from a large area of the site was lost, but we do have an idea of what went on at Tranquility Farm based on the types of artifacts recovered.

In the 1990s, the Abbe field school returned to Tranquility Farm, this time applying the great advances in archaeology made during the intervening decades. A small area of the site was carefully excavated. Evidence of wigwams on the site was uncovered, as distinct patterns in the color, texture and contents of the soil layers. Animal bones left over from food production and burned plant remains from fire hearths were used to begin to reconstruct the diet and subsistence activities of the occupants of the site. Radiocarbon dates on charcoal from fire hearths provided a date of approximately 1,200 years ago, and pottery decorations suggest that the site was used over a period of more than 1000 years. And a couple of small glass beads, which the Wabanaki would have acquired through trade with Europeans, tell us that Native people were living at Tranquility Farm when Europeans first arrived in the region.

In 2010, the Field School again returned to Tranquility Farm, and we have been back every summer since, making gradual progress with one week of excavation each year. The current excavations are looking at an area adjacent to the 1990s excavations. Archaeologists have found in the last couple of decades that the area around the edges of many shell middens on the coast of Maine provide the most detailed insight into the lives of the Wabanaki occupants over the millennia. Relatively undisturbed by the destructive early 20th century digs, the perimeters show evidence of houses, fire pits, food storage pits, and other remnants of daily life. Uncovering and recording these complex features in the soil takes time and patience, but is very rewarding.

Some of our exciting finds over the past few years have included:
  • Pottery fragments with decorations that suggest long-term use of the site.

  • Stone tools made from both locally available stones and from material that would have been traded from as far away as Nova Scotia.

  • Bone harpoon heads used to spear large fish, seals, or even small whales.

  • Soil patterns including post holes indicating at least two different structures, and several fire hearths.

  • Animal bones including bear, moose, deer, beaver, and a wide range of fish and birds, and lots and lots of clams.
If you have a fascination with archaeology, and are inspired to learn more about Wabanaki history going back thousands of years, the Archaeological Field School is a terrific way to have a firsthand experience, while contributing to our knowledge. From the excitement of uncovering a stunning artifact, to the satisfaction that comes from oh-so-carefully uncovering the traces of a wigwam floor, to learning how to tell the bones of a fish, or a bird, or a bear, apart, and hearing the Passamaquoddy language and songs return to this place after several centuries of absence, the field school is a participatory learning experience you will not want to miss!

Ever wonder how a river, mountain, or town got its name?

Wabanaki Place: Language and Landscape

Join us on Sunday, June 1, 6 - 8 PM to learn about Mount Desert Island and Downeast regional names from the perspective of its earliest inhabitants. James E. Francis, Penobscot Nation’s Cultural and Historic Preservation director and member of the USET Culture & Heritage Committee, will share stories about the origin and meaning of geographic place names from a Wabanaki perspective.

Place names are part of language preservation which is an important part of Penobscot culture. Recently, the Penobscot Nation was awarded a $339,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to the Folk Life Center which will provide resources and linguistic training to the Penobscot Nation’s language revitalization efforts and the publication of a comprehensive dictionary.

As part of the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) 2014 Semi-Annual Meeting in Bar Harbor, this is a unique opportunity to learn more about Native cultural place and belonging. As a special addition, the presentation will be accompanied by a performance by the Alamoosic Drummers.

Today, USET has grown to become an inter-tribal organization with 26 federally-recognized Tribal Nation members. While defined as a regional organization, USET has developed into a nationally prominent and respected organization due to its broad policy platform and influence
on the most important and critical issues facing all of Indian Country. Supporting all of its issue specific advocacy is a foundation built upon the goals of promoting and protecting the inherent sovereignty rights of all Tribal Nations, pursuing opportunities that enhance Tribal Nation rebuilding, and working to ensure that the United States upholds its sacred trust responsibilities to Indian Country.

USET represents and promotes the interests of its member Tribes through conferences, associations, work groups, partnerships, etc. Additionally, it serves as a forum for the exchange of ideas, works on behalf of its membership to create an improved quality of life for American Indians through increased Health, Education, Social Services, Housing, Economic Development, Transportation, and Justice opportunities, and works to promote Indian leadership to ensure Indian Country’s continued growth, development, and prosperity as Tribal Nations.

The USET Conference will meet in Bar Harbor from June 2-4, 2014.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

6:00-8:00 pm

Abbe Museum, Downtown

Contemporary Issues Panel: Kci Kikuwosson Skitkomiq: Our Mother, the Earth

Please join us on May 20 at 6:00 PM for a panel discussion featuring Wabanaki tribal members. Wabanaki people are among the very few populations of indigenous peoples that have not been forced off of their traditional homelands. The Wabanaki have had an uninterrupted presence in Maine for over 12,000 years. A representative from each of the five Wabanaki communities will form the panel, providing museum visitors with the unique opportunity to receive first-hand information on the modern issues that Wabanaki people face. As a compliment toTwisted Path III, this panel will focus on issues surrounding sacred spaces, land ownership, land conservation and restoration, and resource management within the four tribes in Maine.

Free and open to the public.
Tuesday, May 20
6:00 PM - 8:00 PM
At the Abbe Museum Downtown

Children's Mandala Workshop with Twisted Path III Artist Gabriel Frey

Saturday May 3, Noon - 3:00 PM

Mandala’s are found in cultures across the globe, and typically feature a circular motif that is filled with symbolism meant to invoke specific imagery during meditation. In this workshop, Gabriel Frey, Passamaquoddy, will not only speak about the mandala he created using Wabanaki symbolism for the Twisted Path III: Questions of Balance exhibit, but guide students through the process of creating their own mandala.

Free and open to the public, registration required. All ages welcome, but priority is given to children. Contact Museum Educator George Neptune to make a reservation, or (207)288-3519.
Location: Abbe Museum Downtown

Welcome Eli!

The Abbe is thrilled to welcome Eli Mellen to the staff as our new Office and Database Manager. Eli grew up in Washington D.C. and moved to Mount Desert Island to attend the College of the Atlantic, where he received both his Bachelors and Masters degrees in Human Ecology. His senior and graduate theses both explored the design of systems that cultivate and encourage connection and communication with a focus on building community. He bring experience working on MDI by way of College of the Atlantic, the Naturalist’s Notebook and A&B Naturals and also works as a freelance designer. Eli was recently named a Treehouse Fellow and presented at TEDx Dirigo as a part of this fellowship.

“I’m thrilled to be part of the Abbe’s team, I love community and sharing. Working at the Abbe, I’ll be able to help share new learning about the Wabanaki community and its culture with the others.”

Eli will be taking over many of Johannah’s former responsibilities along with some of John Brown’s as he shapes this new position and offers his many talents and areas of expertise to the museum. Welcome Eli!

High School Student Completes Independent Study at the Abbe

For the past three weeks, the Abbe welcomed George Stevens Academy junior, Leah Tallent, who completed an independent study at the museum. Leah had expressed interest in conducting her independent study at the museum with the goal of learning more about the behind-the-scenes operation of museums. Over the course of her work here, Leah catalogued 18 boxes of books in our library and assisted the Curator of Education with the development of a new staff training binder. She was invaluable to us and we are sorry to see her go! Leah joined a long line of high school students who have turned to the Abbe as a resource for independent studies. For more information on such opportunities, please contact Curator of Education, Jennifer Pictou, at

March Brown Bag Lunch with Gabe Frey

Twisted Path III is the third incarnation in a series of exhibits that feature contemporary Native American art. This year’s exhibit theme, Questions of Balance, focuses on indigenous perspectives on environmental impact and conservation, and invites visitors to consider Native American concerns about the environment through the lens of contemporary art. Gabriel Frey works in many mediums, focusing on painting/drawing and basketry. Known for his superior quality utility baskets, Gabriel strives to create traditional, functional pieces with a decorative, contemporary twist. This program is free and open to the public.

Grandfather (oil on canvas painting) and pack basket by Gabe Frey, both part of Twisted Path III

Keep up with the Abbe's Collections

The Abbe Museum’s collections comprise more than 50,000 objects representing 10,000 years of Native American culture and history in Maine, including the present. And additions are made each year, under the expert supervision of Curator of Collections, Julia Clark. Each new piece in collections is photographed and shared on our Flickr page; a wonderful way to keep up with new acquisitions. These acquisitions are made possible through two funds, the Diane Kopec fund and the Friends of the Collection Fund. If you’d like to make a gift to one of these funds, please contact Director of Development, Hannah Whalen at or by calling 207-288-3519.

A few recent collections additions:

Basket by Theresa Secord, Penobscot

“One Drawing a Day for One Month,” desk calendar, James Eric Francis, Sr., Penobscot, November 2013

“One Drawing a Day for One Month,” desk calendar, James Eric Francis, Sr., Penobscot, November 2013

Corn basket by George Neptune, Passamaquoddy, 2013. Brown ash and sweetgrass

February Vacation Programming

February vacation is next week, and the Abbe invites you to come on down to the museum for a couple of programs specially designed for children by Museum Educator, George Neptune. All programs and museum admission are free and open to all! Please note that registration is required for the Wampum Belt workshop. See details below.

Tuesday, February 18, 10:00 am - 12:00 pm
Winter in the Dawnland: Wabanaki Stories and Craft Activity

In Wabanaki culture, the winter season was traditionally a time of quiet introspection and, most importantly, a time to share traditional stories. In this new program series designed for children, each month will feature a different traditional story from the Wabanaki tribes and a craft activity that relates to the story. This month, hear stories about Polawec and his magical wikuwam, the girl with the Invisible Husband, and the Pine Marten’s magical birchbark dish—then, make your own imitation birchbark basket or peaked cap to decorate and take home with you!

Wednesday, February 19, 10:00 am - 3:00 pm
Wampum of the Wabanaki: Children’s Wampum Belt workshop

In this workshop, designed for families, learn some of the ways the Wabanaki used wampum, or the polished shell of a quahog clam. Wampum belts were used to keep records—is there something in your life that you would like to commemorate? After learning about traditional Wabanaki wampum belts, design your own belt to be woven out of imitation shell beads to symbolize a life event that has significant meaning for you and your family.

Free and open to the public. Registration required, contact George at or call (207)288-3519.

Meet Abigail Dangler, Twisted Path III Intern

Over the past couple months, as a tremendous amount of hard work went into Twisted Path III: Questions of Balance, the exhibit team received help from Abbe volunteer and intern on the exhibit, Abigail Dangler. Abby is a senior at the Mount Desert Island High School and originally volunteered with the museum during the 2013 Gathering Gala. During December and January, Abby worked several afternoons a week, helping deconstruct Wabanaki Guides and prepare the exhibit hall for Twisted Path III. Now that the exhibit is up, we grabbed a few minutes of Abby’s time and asked her to reflect on her experience volunteering and interning at the museum.

What led to your interest in volunteering and then interning at the Abbe Museum?

I will be going to college soon, and I am interested in art and natural history. I figured that spending some time at the Abbe Museum would be a good way to get some more experience in those field as well as see how a museum operates and gain some insight into the museum world.

What did you do in your work on Twisted Path III?

A lot of different things! I painted walls, removed letters from the walls, cut mat boards, and other tasks to help prepare for the exhibit.

What did you find particularly interesting during your work on the exhibit?

Because I was not here every day, I got to really appreciate how much happened between the days I’d work. It amazed me how quickly the whole exhibit came together. I really appreciated seeing the process; so much work went into creating that exhibit and, at the same time, the work happened really quickly, I thought.

What would you say to anyone considering volunteering or interning at the Abbe?

Do it! Everyone here is so nice and it was a huge amount of fun.

What is your favorite aspect about the exhibit?

The day I came and all the pieces were on the walls and in the cases, I was so struck by how beautiful all the art is. And then I came back and the artist statements were on the wall and that made me appreciate the pieces all the more. I really like that combination of art and statement.

For more information about volunteer opportunities at the Abbe Museum, contact Curator of Education, Jennifer Pictou at or call 207-288-3519.

Abbe President and CEO travels to Washington for Museums Advocacy Day

Catlin-Legutko meets with Senator Collins during Museums Advocacy Day, 2013Abbe President and CEO, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko will travel to Washington, D.C. on February 24-25 to participate in Museums Advocacy Day, during which over 300 museum professionals from across the country journey to the capitol to make the case for federal support of America’s museums.

Museums Advocacy Day is the embodiment of the Constitutional right of citizens to petition the government, and a basic exercise in democracy, whereby average citizens have their voices heard in Congress. Catlin-Legutko will meet with Maine’s representatives and present powerful data on the economic, educational, and community impact museums make both locally and nationally.

Stay tuned for a report after Advocacy Day!

Abbe Offers Free Admission, Sponsored by Machias Savings Bank

Breaking News! The Abbe Museum will be offering free admission half of the year beginning this February.

The museum, which is celebrating its 86th year on Mount Desert Island, has a long-standing commitment to serving the local community, with much of the museum’s educational programs offered free of any additional charge after museum admission, and this year the Abbe is taking that commitment even further.

“The decision to offer free admission from November through April was a natural one,” explains Abbe President and CEO, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko. “We really have two audiences here at the museum. During the summer and fall, we serve a large number of tourists as visitors pour onto the island from around the country and the world, via car, bus and cruise ship. During the winter and spring, the local people, who are often too busy working in the summer, come back to the museum for film events, exhibit openings and other educational programs.. In recent years we have really been focusing on how to deepen our connection to the year-round community, both on Mount Desert Island and beyond, and we feel that free admission during the quieter months is a really good way to do so.”

The first year of free admission is made possible through the support of Machias Savings Bank. “Machias Savings Bank is very pleased to be able to support this effort,” said Bar Harbor Branch Manager, Matt Horton. “The Abbe does so much to help bring awareness about the Wabanaki Nations to the general public. It is an incredible resource to have right here in our own backyard and we are happy to be part of making it even more accessible for the local community and all of Maine.”

Matt Horton, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko and Abbe Director of Development, Hannah Whalen

The Abbe is currently closed for the month of January, as they take down last year’s feature exhibit, Wabanaki Guides and install the new feature exhibit, Twisted Path III, Questions of Balance.When the museum reopens on February 6, the doors will open to that new feature exhibit and admission will be free for all. Free admission begins February 6 through the end of April, and begins again November 1.