2014: It’s All History Now (Part 6 of 7)
We entered 2014 with two incredible exhibitions already on display at MHS. Our main gallery featured This Rebellion: Maine and the Civil War (June 28, 2013 – May 26, 2014), which was a stop on the new 22-site Maine Civil War Trail. We developed many public programs and online resources dedicated to the Civil War, and if you missed seeing the exhibition in person, you can still view the online version on the Maine Memory Network.
On display in the Shettleworth Lecture Hall was the charming show Dear Old Maine, I’m Coming Back: Home & Hearth Reflected in the Maine Historical Society Sheet Music Collection (November 1, 2013 – February 22, 2014).
Maine Historical Society participates in Portland’s First Friday Art Walk, and visitors in 2014 were able to engage in our exhibitions at no charge on those select evenings. Stay tuned for 2015 Art Walk events at MHS!
As the year unfolded, we presented our collections in new and interesting ways in the following exhibitions, throughout our campus and offsite, too:
On June 26, our current exhibition HOME: The Longfellow House and the Emergence of Portland opened to a crowd of MHS members and friends, all eager to see the much-anticipated new show that explores the evolution of the Wadsworth-Longfellow House and our beloved city. View images from the opening reception in this blog post, and read an MHS staffer’s review in the post Potty Talk: Fragile Objects Found in a Privy. If you aren’t planning a trip to Maine before this exhibition closes, you can still interact with its online component (but trust us, the in-person experience is worth it!).
When Peleg Wadsworth built the Longfellow House in 1785, it was on the rural outskirts of Portland. By the early 1800s, the House was at the center of a bustling, modern New England city. Since then, Portland has boomed, burned, boomed again, busted, and reemerged as a vibrant, forward-looking city.
Through it all, the Wadsworth-Longfellow House has been a constant witness to the life of an emerging community. The stories of the Wadsworth and Longfellow families and an ever-changing cast of neighbors on their block—families, hotels, businesses, tenements, etc.—help explain how Portland has become the beloved, livable city we know today.
We collaborated with the public for one particular display “Your Home: Past & Present” in which folks took photos of their homes as they appear today, and submitted them to us along with historical images of their homes (many found on Maine Memory Network). Learn more about how you can participate in this project, and view some of the submissions in our Facebook album or website.
In conjunction with HOME, we displayed the show Remembering Our Visit: Souvenir China and Mementos of the Longfellow House (June 26 – present), in the Showcase Gallery, which features objects relating to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his boyhood home that demonstrates the poet’s wide public appeal. Collecting souvenirs became popular in the late 1800s with the expansion of the railways and the rise of leisure time in the United States. Local dry goods, crockery, and glassware retailers commissioned pieces and made them available for those who wanted a keepsake of their visit to Portland and the Wadsworth-Longfellow House.
Shettleworth Lecture Hall
Throughout 2014, we presented five exhibitions, contributed by MHS staff from different departments, in this space–the first being the aforementioned Dear Old Maine I’m Coming Back.
From Chop Suey to Washington Pie: Maine Menus (February 24 – April 3), was curated by our Archivist & Cataloger Nancy Noble, and highlighted the eclectic menu collections at the Brown Library. This compilation of vintage menus was inspired by a blog post written by Noble, that was picked up by the Portland Press Herald, and provided a tasty backdrop for many food-related programs that we hosted during Maine Restaurant Week.
From Slavery to Maine (April 4 – May 26) was curated by Candace Kanes, Historian and Maine Memory Network Curator. A number of former slaves, probably several hundred, settled in Maine during and after the Civil War. Some came through the auspices of Gen. Oliver Otis Howard, a native of Leeds and head of the Freedman’s Bureau; some with individual soldiers, and others on their own. Letters, photographs, and newspaper articles tell the story of a few of the former slaves who came to Maine in the 1860s.
A Snapshot of Portland, 1924: The Taxman Cometh (June 27 – September 28) celebrates the informal photographs taken by the tax assessors of every taxable building and home in Portland (including the Casco Bay islands) in 1924. These unique images were recently added to the Maine Memory Network, making them easily accessible to the public. The exhibition highlights a selection of these fascinating snapshots of Portland life-from its first “skyscrapers” to tenements, pool halls, and farms.
William David Barry, our Reference Historian and the curator of this exhibition, writes:
“one of the first, most enduring, and helpful acts carried out by the Portland city government that was formed under the new charter of 1923 was to photograph and describe every taxable building in the city.”
The visual and descriptive record created by men and women hired by the Tax Assessors Office provides a unique view into Portland’s architecture, neighborhoods, industries, and businesses at a time when Portland was on the verge of profound changes. If you missed the show in person, you can view Barry’s selections in this online exhibit.
Wholesome Habitations: Architectural Collections at Maine Historical Society (October 3 – present) was curated by Jamie Rice, Director of Library Services with collaboration from Ted Oldham, MHS Trustee and Joseph Reynolds. This exhibition, sponsored by SMRT Architects and Scott Simons Architects, highlights the extensive architectural drawing collection at the MHS. On display are various forms of architectural drawings and supplemental items, such as presentation drawings, elevations, floor plans, decorative elements, and photographs.
The nationally traveling exhibition, Lincoln: The Constitution and The Civil War, from the American Library Association and National Constitution Center arrived at the Brown Library on November 12. This extraordinary show came to us as a collaboration with the Maine Irish Heritage Center. It highlights emancipation and President Abraham Lincoln’s struggle with the constitutionality of the thirteenth amendment.
The exhibition marks the first for our new repurposed space in the Reading Room of the Library, was highly attended, and included three evening events – bringing in nearly 500 people to the Brown Library. This show closed on December 20.
Our Registrar & Collections Manager, Holly Hurd-Forsyth, curated the special mini-exhibition Affectionately Yours, Charles Dickens. This compact but awe-inspiring display was located in the Wadsworth-Longfellow House during the holiday season and was available for guests to view during tours in November and December. Affectionately Yours featured, among other items, an original letter from Charles Dickens written to Senator Charles Sumner in 1842.
As part of our spectacular fundraising event in May, An Evening in the 1920s, we displayed a mini-exhibition for one night only in the historic Portland Masonic Temple. Guests enjoyed seeing MHS collections from the 1920s, relating to themes of fashion, photography, and prohibition.
Monument Square–once known as Market Square–is the beating heart of Portland’s downtown, a landmark space that holds our city’s history, culture, and community. In April, we collaborated with the proprietors of the Public Market House, to present MHS collection images relating to the history of Portland’s Monument Square in their space. Circling the Square: 100 Years at the Market opened on April 4 during the First Friday Art Walk, and remains on permanent display on the venue’s second floor. A trip to Maine Historical Society isn’t complete without a walk across the street to see the monument, this photography show, and have a tasty lunch by the local food merchants in the Market!