Feature Articles and Media

art current: Gee’s Bend Quilts at the Penobscot Marine Museum

Story by Britta Konau in The Free Press

Crazy Quilt by Lucy Mongo

Crazy Quilt by Lucy Mongo

The story of Gee’s Bend quilts is a complicated, sad and happy one. Gee’s Bend, a remote, historically African-American village on a peninsula formed by the Alabama River, originated in the early 1800s from slave cabins of Joseph Gee’s cotton plantations. Women slaves and their emancipated descendants made quilts from worn-out clothes, feed sacks, and whatever scraps might be usable to provide warmth in unheated housing. Poverty was rampant and interaction with neighboring towns limited (ferry service was suspended by the cross-river town in response to Benders’ civil rights protests). How the rest of the world found out about those quilts has been recounted many times. In 1997, William Arnett, an art collector and scholar, tracked down the women after having seen photographs of some of their quilts. He bought nearly 700 old quilts and contracted for intellectual property rights to all quilts made before 1984, which he transferred to his non-profit promoting vernacular art, Tinwood Alliance. In 2002, the nationally touring exhibition of 70 quilts from that collection, “The Quilts of Gee’s Bend,” took the art world by surprise and was followed by commodification of the quilts’ designs into home products (postal stamps, too, were issued).

Read the full story in The Free Press

Students build boats in new museum learning center


SEARSPORT, Maine (NEWS CENTER)– A Searsport District High School course is teaching students problem solving skills and maintaining the tradition of boat budiling in Seasport.

“To have a new generation of young people involved in the maritime field is just super. To have them get excited about maritime- who knows where it will lead,” says Wayne Hamilton, owner of Hamilton Marine.

Wayne and Loraine Hamilton donated their old Hamilton Marine store to the Penobscot Marine Museum in December. Since then, students have been working with long time boat builder, Greg Rossel.

Read the rest and watch the video at WCSH 6.

Abandon ship!


Don Wagner of McMillan Offshore Survival Training climbs into an immersion suit. Photo by Tom Groening

SEARSPORT — At 2 a.m., 35 miles out to sea, with winter winds howling and water temperatures around 40 degrees, there can be no two more frightening words.

On a perfect summer day off the town dock, though, “Abandon ship!” was more educational than terrifying.

Sponsored by the Penobscot Marine Museum, the demonstration by Don Wagner of McMillan Offshore Survival Training of Belfast gave visitors a glimpse into how important training and equipment are in surviving a sinking. A six-person raft that was to be used in the demonstration failed. But Wagner turned that into part of the lesson.

At sea, the raft would be removed from a canister and by pulling a line, would be filled by a charged tank of C02. The raft has a safety valve that opens if the pressure from the tank is too great, and then it closes once filled. On the raft Wagner brought, the valve failed to stay closed and so it would not hold air. The 15-year-old demonstration raft had been condemned during an inspection several years ago, he explained. “This is why it’s so important to have a raft inspected and to have survival suits,” he said.

Click here to read the full story by Tom Groening at The Working Waterfront

Daring Rescue at Sea

SEARSPORT – The story of an incredible ocean rescue was the topic Thursday night at the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport. Captain Skip Strong rehashed that historic rescue and salvage which happened almost twenty years ago.

“It was sort of the pinnacle of my career. It was taking everything I’d learned at that point in time, putting it to use. I had an excellent ship, a very good crew, and the guys in the tugboat also did everything they could,” Captain Skip Strong, of the Cherry Valley oil tanker, says.

It was a combination of skill, luck and a solid crew working together that enabled the salvage of the tugboat out of a tropical storm in November of 1994.

Click here to read the full story and watch the video by Karina Bolster at WFVX TV 7

Images taken century ago in Washington County show vibrant, busy towns

American Can Plant, Lubec ME

American Can Plant, Lubec ME

The children stare obediently at the photographer as if they have been interrupted at play. Behind them, smoke rises from brick chimneys atop square, squat buildings. The camera is too far away to tell how the the boys and girls feel about having their picture taken.

Photographer Lewis Hines did not set up his camera in 1911 to take photos of children at leisure. Instead he captured their images as they were either on their way to or from work at one of the many sardine canneries that dotted the streets of Lubec and Eastport more than a century ago.

Hines shot the children in front of the American Can Co., the first mechanized tin can manufacturer in Lubec. His framed photograph is one of 33 taken throughout Washington County in the first half of the 20th century gathered in a traveling exhibit.

Called “Washington County Through Eastern’s Eye,” its first stop is the Cherryfield Public Library. Next month it will move to Steuben and be shown in other Down East towns throughout the year.

The pictures were gathered from the Eastern Illustrating and Publishing Co.’s collection of 50,000 glass plate negatives preserved by the Penobscot Marine Museum. The photos were shot to be used as postcards from 1909 through the 1950s, according to Kevin Johnson, curator and photo archivist for the collection.

Click here to read the full story by Judy Harrison at the Bangor Daily News

Searsport students chronicle their heritage one sea captain at a time

SEARSPORT, Maine — The Searsport where Alivia Cross lives is a very different community from the one that existed 150 years ago during the golden age of shipbuilding and sailing.

Through a multimedia class project, the Searsport District High School sophomore had the chance this semester to learn about her town’s history and create an exhibit that will be on display at the Penobscot Marine Museum this summer.

“I learned a lot about our history,” the 16-year-old said Monday evening at the museum after an opening for the “Then and Now: The Dangers of Life At Sea” exhibit. “I didn’t realize how big an impact we had on the world.”

Many of the world’s sea captains came from New England, and Searsport produced a disproportionate amount, she said. For her project, she talked to local historians including Charlene Farris and Faith Garrold, and worked with Cipperly Good, the collections manager at the museum. With their help, Alivia learned about different aspects of life at sea. Her exhibit, located in the Old Church Vestry at the museum, features photographs such as an unhappy toddler perched on the knee of her father, a ship captain.

Click here to read the full story by Abigail Curtis at the Bangor Daily News

Searsport museum’s shipwreck exhibit chronicles dramatic ends

The schooner Alice E. Clark half-sunk on Coombs Ledge off Islesboro.

The schooner Alice E. Clark half-sunk on Coombs Ledge off Islesboro.

SEARSPORT — For decades, the town has boasted of its sea captains and their voyages to the four corners of the world. If there were any doubt about the truth behind this pride, a visit to the True-Fowler-Ross House, a 19th century residence now part of the Penobscot Marine Museum campus, puts it to rest.

There’s a gallery of photographs spanning two walls in the back of the house that makes the point—scores of captain faces look down at visitors. In all, 284 Searsport ship captains hailed from this small coastal town.

Coinciding with the museum’s summer exhibit, “For Those in Peril: Shipwrecks, Memorials and Rescues,” a star has been added to the portrait of each captain who died at sea. The captain may have perished when the ship went down or died from disease contracted in exotic ports of call. Both were all-too-common ends.

Click here to read the full story by Tom Groening at The Working Waterfront

Rescue at sea leads to big payoff for Maine man

SEARSPORT, Maine — Nearly 20 years ago, Capt. Skip Strong responded to a distress call from an ocean-going tugboat that was in trouble off the coast of Florida during Tropical Storm Gordon.

As it turned out, his decision to help the five men aboard the distressed vessel had some big ramifications, made headlines and led to a major settlement in a court case.

Strong, who now lives in Southwest Harbor, will be speaking about the 1994 rescue at sea Thursday night at the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport.

“If someone’s in trouble out on the water, you go out and see if you can give them a hand,” he said Wednesday. “We were going out there to see if we could help these five guys on a tugboat who seemed to be having a pretty bad night.”

Strong, who was 32 then and who had graduated from Maine Maritime Academy in Castine about 10 years earlier, was captain of the Cherry Valley, an oil tanker trying to outrun the tropical storm. But he couldn’t ignore the call for help from the tugboat, which had lost 75 percent of its engine power and was struggling in heavy winds and seas that were as tall as 25 feet.

“The barge they were towing had a lot of sail area. They were getting dragged to the coast of Florida, right by a shoal area,” said Strong, who today is one of four owners of Penobscot Bay and River Pilots.

Click here to read the full story by Abigail Curtis at the Bangor Daily News