MHS Awarded $50,000 Grant from Leon Levy Foundation for Architecture and Landscape Architecture Initiative and Website

Maine Historical Society (MHS) is excited to announce that it has been awarded a $50,000 grant from the Leon Levy Foundation (New York City) to launch a major initiative that will care for and provide extensive public access to its signature architecture and landscape architecture collections.

The initiative will support the acquisition and processing of the professional archives of renowned Maine landscape architect Patrick Chassé and the development of a new online portal on the Maine Memory Network dedicated to celebrating Maine’s architecture and landscape design heritage. The initial phase of this work is also being supported by a legacy gift of the Maine Olmsted Alliance for Parks & Landscapes, now part of MHS.

Shelby White, founding trustee of the Leon Levy Foundation, said, “We are delighted that the Leon Levy Foundation can help conserve and make digitally available the Maine Historical Society’s exemplary collection of the state’s unique landscape and architectural heritage.”

Chassé, a Caribou native, has helped define a landscape architecture aesthetic that is quintessentially Maine—creating gardens and landscapes that blend with, complement, and subtly enhance Maine’s natural environment. His permanent archive at MHS will document all aspects of his career, including commissions in Maine, across the country, and beyond, collaboration with clients including major institutions across the country, work on some of Maine’s most iconic gardens and landscapes, and his stewardship of Maine’s landscape architecture heritage.

The Leon Levy Foundation grant will also support the first phase of development of a major new portal on the Maine Memory Network, MHS’s nationally-recognized digital platform. The portal will introduce the public to Maine’s built environment and provide a vast reference resource for architects, landscape architects, garden designers, property owners, restoration contractors, and the general public, including 7,500 architecture commission records and hundreds of landscape design survey records created by the Maine Olmsted Alliance. It will include interpretive guides prepared by Earle Shettleworth, Jr. and Patrick Chassé, and sample images for each commission. The database will be expandable and enable other institutions and private individuals to add Maine-related records and information from their collections.

House sketch, Cushing’s Island, ca. 1883, by John Calvin Stevens. Collections MHS / MMN # 6030.

MHS collections include architectural and landscape design commissions dating from 1850 through the present with strong holdings from Bangor, Lewiston, and Greater Portland. Highlights include the work of John Calvin Stevens, Frederick Tompson, John Thomas, the Coombs Firm (Harriman), Eaton Tarbell, Wadsworth-Boston, Beal DePeter and Ward, Quentin Armstrong, LC Andrew, and Gridley Barrows. This grant supports a broad initiative to expand access to and use of these collections and process recent acquisitions—including the archives of Francis Zelz, Bisson & Bisson, and Peter Munro.

MHS is seeking additional sponsorship and funding to develop and expand this initiative. For further information, contact info@mainehistory.org or call 207-774-1822.

The Sanctity of Archives

By Steve Bromage, MHS Executive Director

You may have heard about a controversy that has emerged this week surrounding the National Archives and Records Administration: NARA, which refers to itself as the “country’s record keeper,” has been taken to task for altering historic images used to promote its exhibit celebrating the centennial of the women’s suffrage movement. Images of the 2017 Women’s March were blurred to obscure references to “Trump” and female anatomy, drawing criticism from historians, the museum field, and many others (including those who participated in the March).

You can read about the controversy in this New York Times article.

History is messy and complex (and wonderful and an incredibly important resource). This controversy strikes a chord: it raises questions about how institutions like Maine Historical Society go about our work at a time when the concepts of “facts, ” “knowledge,” and “truth” are under siege.

At MHS, our mission is to preserve and share Maine’s story. Central to our work is caring for and providing access to documents and other historical items that serve as the foundation of the historical record. We strive to provide broad access to our collections and work closely with partners throughout the state to develop exhibits, public programs, publications, and online resources that provide context for issues that Mainers are focused on today.

A core tenet articulated in our strategic plan states that MHS is “committed to rigorous scholarship, freedom of inquiry, confronting all aspects of the historical record, and advocates the use of history to support planning for the future.” We take this very seriously.

This means that we are meticulous in how we approach, think about, and present the historical record: we do not alter images, manipulate them for effect, sanitize them, or attempt to put aspects of Maine’s story in a more favorable light.

Our staff engages in constant discussion internally and with partners throughout Maine to identify topics of interest and relevance to the community, to include diverse perspectives, and to present multiple viewpoints.

There are inherent biases in all history—based on what records survive, what materials have been valued and collected, the era in which the history is written, and the background and perspective of the historian and institution. We work hard to identify, acknowledge, and address those biases.

I could cite many examples of MHS’s work in recent years that reflect these commitments: exhibitions on immigration in Maine, the paper industry, and Maine’s food culture and economy.

Our current exhibition, Holding Up the Sky, offers a case in point. As the State of Maine commemorates its Bicentennial this year, we felt that it was essential to first place 200 years of Statehood into the context of 13,000 years of Maine history. The exhibition explores the experience and leadership of the Wabanaki, Maine’s first people, who have lived here and been stewards of the place we now know as Maine for thousands of years.

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The exhibit revisits historic documents, like treaties, from the Wabanaki perspective and acknowledges that early Maine leaders, like the Longfellow family (near and dear to MHS), acted in deeply disturbing ways (e.g. by offering scalping bounties). The story is complex, tragic, moving, inspiring, and many other things. It is a story that people who care about Maine need to know, good and bad. Information, awareness, and open dialog is the foundation for moving forward together on this and every other topic of contemporary interest and concern.

I hope you’ll have the chance to visit Holding Up the Sky before it closes on February 1.

Exhibitions are one important way for the public to encounter and explore history. Each story, fact, object, label, panel, and graphic plays a role in establishing knowledge, understanding, and trust. It is essential that each is presented with honesty, accuracy, and transparency.

We are fortunate: Maine has an incredible historical community. Scholars, professors, graduate students, and local historians are dedicated to these principles, as are museums, archives, local historical societies, libraries, and many other organizations throughout the state.

These individuals and institutions are an invaluable resource and source of information. You can be confident in their vigilance and commitment to providing information that supports civic dialog.

We deeply appreciate the support of MHS members and donors who make this work possible.

Maine Historical Society Introduces New Genealogy Experience

In June, Maine Historical Society kicked off a weekly guided introduction to genealogical research: Find Your Place in History.

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On Thursday afternoons from June to October 2018, small groups gather in MHS’s renowned Brown Research Library and embark on the Find Your Place in History program from 4:00 to 5:30pm. During the program, participants explore history on all levels: from the history of their own family to artifacts that help tell the story of western civilization.

“Genealogy is one of the most popular hobbies in the United States, and many of our visitors to the Brown Research Library are genealogists doing research” says Nan Cumming, Director of Advancement and creator of the Find Your Place in History program. “But we have heard from a number of patrons that there is really no guided introduction to genealogy except reading a book or watching a couple of YouTube videos. We have the expertise, the information, and the collections here – this is certainly a gap in the market we can fill!”

During their afternoon session, Find Your Place in History participants dig into their own family story with the guidance of Maine Historical Society staff. In addition, they view artifacts from the collections of the Maine Historical Society and put on the white gloves and explore Maine Historical Society’s archives—off limits to regular visitors. After their work in the library, the participants gather in the Wadsworth-Longfellow House garden to enjoy refreshments.

“We’re delighted to kick off the Find Your Place in History program and to welcome those who have always had an interest in genealogy, but frankly didn’t know where to start!” said Cumming.

Find Your Place in History: A Maine Historical Society Genealogy Experience is offered Thursdays from June to October, from 4:00pm to 5:30pm. Check-in at the MHS Museum Store at 489 Congress Street.

This is a guided introduction to genealogical research—not for experienced genealogists. To ensure you have the most fascinating experience, bring the names and birthdates of a few relatives to your session.

Ticket Price: $75 each. There is a maximum of 6 people per tour. The deadline to register for each event is the Monday prior to the event. Available by advance registration online at mainehistory.org or by phone at 207-774-1822 ext. 216