Greening the Abbe Update

Museums are unique educational institutions. The Abbe Museum has a specific role in society that must be taken into account when considering environmental impact and operational practices. Given the Abbe's leadership role as an educational institution in the immediate community and across the state, we must take responsibility for our actions by identifying challenges, finding solutions, and implementing a plan that is mindful of future generations. By greening the Abbe, we have joined other environmentally-conscious local institutions, including College of the Atlantic, MDI Biological Laboratory, Friends of Acadia, and The Jackson Laboratory.

Here are a few key highlights from 2016, all of which were made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and our Greening donors:

  • This was the first full year of operation of our new dedicated dehumidifier. We saw a reduction of more than 100 gallons of heating oil per month in July and August and no increase in electricity usage. The new system does a much better job of controlling humidity in collections spaces, with a notable improvement in human comfort in the main gallery, archaeology lab, and collections storage.

  • We replaced a failing humidifier with a new unit and a water filtration system for more reliable and efficient operation.

  • Perhaps the largest improvement in efficiency and cost came when we replaced the cast-iron fuel oil boilers with new high-efficiency propane boilers on October 2015. These new boilers are much cleaner and we have seen a 23.9% decrease in heating costs from 2015 to 2016.

  • Spray foam insulation was applied above the main gallery in November 2015, to better insulate that space and prevent humidified air from escaping to the unheated attic space.

  • Based on our July 2015 energy audit funded by the Grants to Green Program, we applied for and received an implementation grant from the same program in the amount of $19,343 (which is matched by $18,343 from other Greening donors) to make energy efficiency upgrades to the historic section of the downtown location, including improved insulation and air sealing, converting lighting to LEDs, and the installation of local hot water heaters and heat pumps in the office/staff spaces. This work is ongoing. Grants to Green Maine is a partnership between the Maine Development Foundation’s Maine Downtown Center, Efficiency Maine, and the Maine Community Foundation and is funded by the Kendeda Fund of the Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta.

  • Our recycling has improved as well, with a great set-up created to match up with the recycling program at the Bar Harbor transfer station. Virtually all plastic, glass, metal, and paper/cardboard is now being recycled.


Abbe Museum Fellowship Program

With financial support from Dawnland, LLC, we were honored to award three Fellowships in 2016, our second year offering this program, to Wabanaki artists Jason K. Brown, Penobscot, Gabriel Frey, Passamaquoddy, and Theresa Secord, Penobscot. This program recognizes exceptionally creative individuals with track records of achievement and the potential for significant artist contributions in the future, and is a type of support that Wabanaki artists have asked for over the years.

The fellowships provided support for travel, lodging, and other costs associated with exhibiting at Indian art markets in New Mexico and Maine. Jason and Theresa attended the 2016 Southwestern Association for Indian Arts Santa Fe Indian Market (SWAIA) in August and Gabriel attend one of the local markets.

Jason, co-owner of Bangor-based jewelry studio Decontie & Brown, handcrafts jewelry and traditional beadwork made from various metals and semi-precious gemstones.

“My work is motivated by my desire to bring to life the designs created by my imagination,” he said. “I find inspiration in nature, and in the designs of my Penobscot culture. Historically, the Wabanaki people hired local metalsmiths to create adornments for them. I feel that as a contemporary Wabanaki jeweler, I am breaking new ground as a metalsmith and jeweler.”

Gabriel Frey.jpg

Gabriel, a Passamaquoddy brown ash basketmaker, specializes in utility baskets such as pack baskets, market baskets, and purses.

“I weave each basket solely with brown ash and handcraft leather straps for each basket,” he said. “My artistic process includes locating and harvesting basket quality brown ash trees from the woods, processing brown ash logs, and weaving brown ash materials into basket forms. I carve the hoops, rims, handle, and wooden pins to fasten leather straps. The majority of my tools, such as basket molds, gauges, and my shave horse, are adaptations of traditional designs. Maintaining the traditional knowledge of Wabanaki basketmakers is an important aspect of my artistic process.”

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Over the past ten years, Theresa has won awards for her basketry, including several first places at Santa Fe Indian Market, the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market, and the Eiteljorg Indian Market. She is also the first U.S. citizen to receive the Prize for Creativity in Rural Life by the Women’s World Summit Foundation at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, for helping basket makers rise out of poverty.

“My art journey is currently focused on the use of alternative, natural materials to supplement ash, due to the Emerald Ash Borer beetle,” she said. “I’ve been dedicated to the preservation/protection of the sacred ash trees for 23 years, and helped pioneer the use of cedar bark overlay on ash in Maine Indian basketry a few years ago.”

In our efforts to foster and promote contemporary Wabanaki art in both a regional and national context, these fellowships are designed to help Wabanaki artists promote their work within the greater artistic communities. And, their visibility and experience helps us attract artists for the 2018 Abbe Museum Indian Market.


Abbe Museum Launches Online Collections database

The Abbe Museum launched its online collections database in August, 2016. The Museum’s in-house collections focus on contemporary and historic Native American art, artifacts, and objects from Maine and the Northeast, and totals more than 70,000 items. The goal is to upload all of the non-archaeological items to the database over the course of 2017.

“We have been looking forward to sharing our collections online for a long time,” said Director of Collections and Interpretation Julia Gray. “With only a small portion of our collections on exhibit at any time, this gives people a chance to see so much more, and to learn about Wabanaki history and culture through art and objects from anywhere in the world. We are also excited to use this as a platform to welcome Wabanaki community input and perspectives on our collections.”

The Museum has been using PastPerfect museum software since 2000 to manage its collections, and as part of the current strategic plan, we are now using our online platform to share its collections with everyone, near and far. The database allows users to browse the collections, carry out a general keyword search, and even dig a little deeper with a more targeted advanced search. Images and detailed information about each piece are available and virtual visitors can share what they find with friends through email and social media, as well as share feedback with the Museum, directly from the website.

To start, approximately 400 of the roughly 1,800 records in our local database have been uploaded, and more will continue to be added until all of the non-archaeological collections can be seen on the site. Work to put the archaeological collections online is scheduled to begin in 2018.

Visitors can check out everything from an etched birchbark box by Tomah Joseph that illustrates Passamaquoddy life to mid-19th century Penobscot baskets that are still vivid with indigo and other natural dyes. Intricate porcupine quill boxes created by Mi’kmaq artists during the late 1800s and some of the most outstanding work being done by Wabanaki artists today can also be viewed.

The launch of the Abbe’s online collections database was made possible by the outstanding work of summer intern Katy Matthews, who spent the past several months preparing records for upload and gathering information that was missing from the database.

This project is funded by grants from the Maine Humanities Council and the Maine Community Foundation.



The Abbe Museum was a proud sponsor of TEDxDirigo Ebb + Flow on May 21st at The 1932 Criterion Theatre. It was the first time TEDxDirigo ventured to Bar Harbor and the event explored how human communities have shaped the form and history of Mount Desert Island and vice versa as Acadia National Park turned 100. Attendees heard from scientists, artists, writers, adventurers, and Abbe staff.

In addition to the main stage event, registered guests also had the opportunity to participate in special workshops and adventures, one of which was a behind the scenes tour of the Abbe on May 22nd.

TEDxDirigo is Maine's most successful conference dedicated to innovation and creativity in the state and the Abbe has been a proud sponsor since 2012.


People of the first light in the media

In April 2016, we launched our largest permanent exhibit in Abbe history—People of the First Light. Abbe audiences are excited by it and our Native collaborators are truly heartened by it. It symbolizes an extraordinary partnership between Native people and museums and we’ve received wonderful praise from around the country:

“It could just as easily be titled, “We’re Still Here.” The museum, which includes Native Americans on its administrative and curatorial teams, worked with tribal representatives across Indian country in Maine to tell a story from the Native perspective. In the museum world, that process is known as “decolonization,” and the Abbe is earning praise for its aggressive implementation of the practice. In the past, it might have told a similar story, but without the direct perspective of the Native Americans either in presentation or conception, or omitting key historical moments or events that have caused trauma and turmoil.” – Portland Press Herald article, Abbe Museum’s new exhibition tells difficult Native American stories published on May 22, 2016.

“The Abbe really wants people to understand our perspective. They advocate on our behalf and have accepted the challenge to understand us better.” – Gina Brooks, Maliseet, New Brunswick.

“This Smithsonian affiliate has it all over the actual Smithsonian (OK, it's a little smaller, but the interpretation is more meaningful). Their work and exhibits are grounded in their Decolonization Initiative, so that self-determined Wabanaki perspectives guide the content. Native voices tell their own stories. A simple concept but one we don't see nearly often enough. Cases of archaeological artifacts, a mainstay of indigenous museums, were minimal. Each exhibit room instead represented a different variation on the theme of how the past has and continues to shape Maine Native communities today—the pre-contact past as well as post-contact and all its ramifications. A key focus throughout is cultural revitalization, which ensures the survival of traditions and languages but also builds self-respect and enables spiritual healing—something imminently critical among all indigenous peoples. From beginning to end, I was more moved than I've ever been in a museum. Also bought some breathtaking earrings by a native artist in the gift shop, and took a haunted walking tour at night (Dawnland Tours, a museum affiliate) led by a talented native interpreter who shared some Wabanaki cultural stories. This was a keystone of our MDI experience.” – Valerie from Silver Spring, Maryland.

“It was a profound experience for my husband and me—very different from most natural history or ethnic museums. We loved reading about the tribes and their histories, their crafts, their current-day issues, and all the things no one bothers to find out about Native Americans. Hearing their voices, seeing their pictures, being surrounded by things they made and artifacts with special significance to them—all very emotional and meaningful. Not your typical museum experience. Better by a long shot.” – Nancy from Mattituck, New York.

“The museum world has shifted, and the Abbe is shifting with it. They are definitely telling their stories through the eyes of the people whose stories are represented. It’s an important place for the state of Maine.” - Kathleen Mundell, who runs the Maine Arts Commission’s traditional arts program.

People of the First Light opened on April 30th to a highly-attended invite-only VIP reception. The following morning, the Museum opened to the public after having been closed since late December, and 75 people were waiting at the door to see this new core exhibit. In the first hour of being open that morning, more than 200 people visited the Museum, all with the intent of checking out the exhibit.

More reviews of this groundbreaking exhibit:

People of the first light lived here 5000 years ago by the Mount Desert Islander

‘People of the First Light’ exhibit opens at Abbe by the Mount Desert Islander

Abbe Museum’s new exhibition tells difficult Native American stories by the Portland Press Herald

New Exhibit Celebrates Wabanaki Culture and Art by the Acadia Visitor

Abbe Museum opens new permanent exhibition on May 1 by the Portland Press Herald

The Wabanaki World by the New York Times (scroll down below Dressed to Kill)

Five ways to see Acadia National Park on its 100th anniversary by the Boston Globe Magazine


Wabanaki Artists Take Top Spots at Prestigious Markets

Five Wabanaki artists from Maine won a total of seven ribbons at the Santa Fe Indian Market in New Mexico on August 19, 2016. For more than five years, Wabanaki artists have taken top spots at the prestigious market.  

Jeremy Frey, Passamaquoddy, took first in Division B: Outside the Southwest Baskets - Plaited, Wicker category, and 2016 Wabanaki Artist Fellow Theresa Secord, Penobscot, won first place in the same division in the Twined category.

George Neptune, Passamaquoddy, placed second in Division B: Outside the Southwest Baskets - Plaited, Wicker category. Emma Soctomah, Passamaquoddy, won first and second place in Division B: Ages 10-13 - Basketry category, which is her fourth consecutive year winning the top two spots. She also won best of division.

2016 Wabanaki Artist Fellow Gabriel Frey, Passamaquoddy, got an honorable mention in Division B: Outside the Southwest Baskets - Contemporary category.

Along with Gabriel Frey, Jason and Donna Brown, the duo behind Penobscot jewelry studio Decontie & Brown, attended the Santa Fe Indian Market for the first time. Jason Brown is also a 2016 Wabanaki Artist Fellow.

"I am honored and humbled to be among the many East Coast weavers recognized at the market this year," Frey said. “I’m looking forward to many more successful markets.”

Abbe Museum Trustee Jennifer Neptune, Penobscot, was also accepted to attend the market and showcased her brown ash and sweetgrass baskets, beadwork, and porcupine quill jewelry.


Wabanaki artists from Maine win big at heard museum guild indian fair & market

Sarah Sockbeson, Penobscot, won Best of Division in Traditional Baskets and Best of Class in Baskets at the 58th annual Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market, which draws nearly 15,000 visitors and more than 600 of the nation’s most outstanding and successful American Indian artists. George Neptune, Passamaquoddy, won first place in Non-Traditional Basketry and Emma Soctomah, Passamaquoddy, won Best in Classification in Junior Division-Baskets.

“It’s an incredibly exciting time to be a Wabanaki artist,” said Neptune, an educator at the Abbe Museum. “For several years now, we've been traveling west to the biggest Indian art markets in the world and claiming top prizes in the basketry divisions at every market. This year, I won my first blue ribbon at the Heard Museum and I was beyond excited to have won with a piece that is so representative of my style as an artist. I hope it will inspire other Wabanaki people, especially youth, to take pride in our culture and practice our traditions—because when you do, beautiful things happen.”

Sockbeson apprenticed with Jennifer Neptune, Penobscot, in 2004 and learned the history, techniques, and art that has become modern Native basketry. Soon thereafter, museums and collectors across the country began to recognize her incredible talent. Her unique style incorporates many different elements of traditional Wabanaki technique and she combines that with innovative colors to create a fresh, new approach to a timeless and beautiful art form.

Neptune has been making baskets since he was four years old. At the age of seven, he wove his first basket by himself and has continued weaving through the years, fine-tuning his skills and attention to detail. His baskets now take on a sculptural element that is unique to his style, often featuring woven flowers, the signature of his family’s work. Twigs, woven birds, and other creatures are also used to create baskets that are truly one of a kind. At twenty years old, he was awarded the title of Master Basketmaker by the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance, making him the youngest person to ever receive the title.

“It made me feel really good to win Best of Classification, and it made me feel like I can do a lot better and go further with my basket career,” said 12-year-old Soctomah. “My friends were really surprised how far you can go with making baskets, and where you can go. They all congratulated me when I got home. I'm really excited to go to Santa Fe Indian Market this summer and hopefully back to the Heard next year.”

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Soctomah is one of the youngest basketmakers in the Wabanaki tribes and began weaving with her brother, George Neptune, at five years old. Now her brother's formal apprentice, Soctomah has already received national recognition for her work. At nine years old, she was one of the 2013 recipients of the SWAIA Youth Fellowship and was featured in Native Peoples Magazine. In 2015, Soctomah was one of the first artists to receive an Abbe Museum Wabanaki Artist Fellowship.

Other Wabanaki artists invited to attend the fair were Abbe Museum Trustees Jennifer Neptune, Penobscot and David Moses Bridges, Passamaquoddy, Molly Neptune Parker, Passamaquoddy, Jeremy Frey, Passamaquoddy, Gal Tomah, Passamaquoddy, and Theresa Secord, Penobscot.


Free Admission Program

The Abbe Museum continued to offer free admission in 2016, thanks to the generosity of Machias Savings Bank. Admission was free on select days throughout the summer and fall, as well as from November through December.

“We at Machias Savings Bank are once again honored to partner with the Abbe Museum to offer free admission to all that the Museum has to offer,” said Branch Manager, Matt Horton. "And especially with the installation of the new core exhibit, People of the First Light, I encourage everyone to take the time and visit.”