People of the First Light  Opened may 2016

People of the First Light, the Abbe Museum's core exhibit, introduces visitors to the Wabanaki universe, engaging them with the culture and history of a people that is unfamiliar to many. Bringing together oral traditions, personal stories, cultural knowledge, language, and historical accounts with objects, photographs, multimedia, and digital interactives, People of the First Light shares a wide variety of content and perspectives around more than 12,000 years of history, conflict, adaptation, and survival in the Wabanaki homeland.

The design of the exhibit space has a contemporary feel, shaped by the work of Wabanaki artists who were a part of the design process from the beginning. The centerpiece of the exhibit is a two-story sculptural ash tree that draws the various sections of the exhibit together. Artwork and illustrations by Maliseet artist Gina Brooks, among other Wabanaki artists, are the foundation of a visual experience that reflects both Wabanaki traditions and current experiences.

People of the First Light provides visitors with an understanding of Wabanaki history and culture, affirming that there are Native people in Maine and the wider Wabanaki homeland today and that their story is one of more than 12,000 years with no removal history. The exhibit also connects visitors, and the knowledge and experiences they bring with them, to Wabanaki perspectives and ideas through multiple ways of knowing.

Interested in learning even more about this exhibit? Sign up for the People of the First Light Blog! We launched this blog as a place to share all kinds of information as it relates to the exhibit. When a museum exhibit attempts to tell the full story of the history and culture of a people, there is always much more than can fit in the actual exhibit. So, thanks to the virtual universe, we are able to deepen and broaden the stories introduced through the exhibit.

This might include stories of shared history, the landscape of the Wabanaki homeland, the diversity of Wabanaki art forms, or updates on the current issues introduced in the exhibit. It will be a place where guest bloggers will share their perspectives. And we welcome reader questions – what would you like to learn more about?

Faithful to the decolonizing framework that shaped People of the First Light, this blog will emphasize Wabanaki perspectives and will connect readers to Wabanaki sources for further learning.

People of the First Light Native Artists:

Gina Brooks, Maliseet

David Moses Bridges, Passamaquoddy

Sarah Sockbeson, Penobscot

George Neptune, Passamaquoddy

Wabanaki Curatorial Consultants:

John Banks, Penobscot

Norman Bernard, Mi’kmaq

Jamie Bissonette Lewey, Abenaki

Cassandra Dana, Passamaquoddy

Natalie Dana, Passamaquoddy

James Eric Francis, Sr., Penobscot

Suzanne Greenlaw, Maliseet

Sherri Mitchell, Penobscot

Brenda Moore-Mitchell, Passamaquoddy

Elizabeth Neptune, Passamaquoddy

Simon Nevin, Mi’kmaq

Bonnie Newsom, Penobscot

Molly Neptune Parker, Passamaquoddy

Gabe Paul, Passamaquoddy

Jennifer Pictou, Micmac

Darren Ranco, Penobscot

Percy Sacobie, Maliseet

Donna Sanipass, Micmac

Mary Sanipass, Micmac

Maulian Smith, Penobscot

Chris Sockalexis, Penobscot

Donald Soctomah, Passamaquoddy

Fred Tomah, Maliseet


Twisted Path IV: Vital Signs Closed December 2017

Our critically acclaimed Twisted Path exhibit series celebrated its fourth year in 2017. Twisted Path IV: Vital Signs was an invitational exhibition that featured contemporary artwork that reflected personal stories about tribal identity and balancing life in a complex world. 

The title Twisted Path is based on a traditional beadwork pattern of the same name, describing a back and forth or meandering quality. It is symbolic of Native artists alternating between two cultures, striving to preserve historical and spiritual traditions while experiencing modern lifestyles and new art forms.

Twisted Path IV: Vital Signs invited audiences to consider Native American concerns about personal and community health and wellness through the medium of contemporary art. Participating artists were chosen based on the aesthetics of their work, their ability and willingness to tell stories through art, and the unique and contemporary natures of their forms:

  • Donna Brown, Penobscot
  • Jason K. Brown, Penobscot
  • David Moses Bridges, Passamaquoddy
  • Chris Pappan, Kaw, Osage, Cheyenne River Sioux
  • Hollis Chitto, Laguna/Isleta, Mississippi Choctaw

It has been wonderful to watch visitors of all ages be amazed and engaged with this striking exhibit. A visitor will step through the gallery doors and immediately come to a sudden stop when they see the stunning David Moses Bridges pieces, and they are often overcome with emotion by the powerful video featuring our dear friend.  David’s death in January 2017 was an incredible loss to everyone who knew him and we are honored that his family shared our vision to include him in Twisted Path IV: Vital Signs in memoriam. His art continues to speak to us through this exhibit.