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Penobscot Marine Museum Celebrates Maine’s Sense Of Place

On view at PMM from May 28 through October 16, 2016

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Inspired by the 100th anniversary of “Maine Postcard Day”, Penobscot Marine Museum presents Wish You Were Here: Communicating Maine, a hundred years of images which have been used to communicate the unique qualities of Maine to the outside world. With photographic postcards, photography, and contemporary art, this exhibit explores the changes which have taken place in the images which have been used to communicate “Maine”.

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Community Project: Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Maine Post Card Day with Maine Libraries

Postcards were the Facebook and Twitter of their age. An estimated 200 to 300 billion postcards were produced and mailed world-wide from the 1890’s to the 1920’s and one of Penobscot Marine Museum’s major photography collections was produced by Eastern Illustrating and Publishing Company, an early Maine postcard company. In 1916 Maine Governor Oakley C. Curtis proclaimed April 19th “Post Card Day” and issued a proclamation asking all Maine citizens to send a postcard of Maine to friends and family outside the state with the message “Come to Maine.” A petition has been sent to Governor Le Page’s office requesting that April 19, 2016 be proclaimed “Postcard Day” in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Maine’s Post Card Day. Penobscot Marine Museum is collaborating with the Maine State Library system to distribute postcards with historic images of Maine from the museum’s photography collection to libraries across the state for patrons to mail during Library Week, April 10th through 16th.

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Exhibit: Historic Maine, a Postcard View

This exhibit presents a history of the postcard, and takes a closer look at postcards produced by three Maine photographic postcard companies. The postcard craze in America, roughly 1905 to 1915, prompted the founding of many postcard companies across the country and in Maine. The vast majority of these American companies had their postcards mass-produced in Europe, but Eastern Illustrating and Publishing Company in Belfast, made “real photo” postcards with crisper images using a labor-intensive darkroom process. Eastern Illustrating and Publishing Company photographers travelled across New England in Model Ts shooting scenes of small towns and rural life often overlooked by larger postcard companies. Postcards produced by Evie Barbour, who photographed the Blue Hill area with a box camera, and the Cunningham Brothers who photographed the area around Washington, Maine combine with images from the Eastern Illustrating and Publishing Company to create a highly personal and intimate portrait of Maine. The exhibit includes oral histories of Mainers talking about the treasured places seen in these postcards, a trailer for a documentary on Eastern Illustrating and Publishing Company by Maine filmmaker Sumner McKane, a Model T outfitted with contemporaneous photography equipment, and the museums’ gigantic walk-in camera obscura which demonstrates the inside workings of a nineteenth-century camera.

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Exhibit: Acadia National Park, a Postcard View

Acadia National Park was founded 100 years ago to preserve its extraordinary sense of place. It has long been the most famous and most visited place in Maine and has been the subject of tens of thousands of postcards. Penobscot Marine Museum joins the Acadia Centennial celebration with an exhibit of fifty years of Acadia National Park in postcards. The images are all from the Belfast-based Eastern Illustrating & Publishing Company, the largest manufacturer of “real-photo postcards” in the United States. The exhibit shows how popular taste changes over time even as the actual landscape does not.

Exhibit: Maine’s Changing Sense of Place

Maine’s unique sense of place has been portrayed over the years by artists such as Winslow Homer and Andrew Wyeth, and today Maine is known for its vibrant art scene. To understand how images of sense of place can change over the years, guest curator Carl Little, author of Paintings of Maine and Art of the Maine Islands, chose photographs and postcards of special places from the Penobscot Marine Museum’s collection and asked artists to use the photos as inspiration to create their own interpretation of Maine’s special places. The historic photograph and the contemporary art work will be displayed side by side.

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Community Project: Photoplay! Postcards by M.J. Bronstein

Artist M.J. Bronstein has created postcards using historic images from Penobscot Marine Museum’s photography collection. These postcards are designed for the museum visitor to be able to draw on them, adding to the historic photo. Each postcard becomes a unique creation for museum visitors to send to their friends.

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Behind the Scene: Why Postcards?

Penobscot Marine Museum’s photography collection was started with a group of Eastern Illustrating and Publishing Company postcard glass-plate negatives which were rescued from a flood and brought to Penobscot Marine Museum for preservation. Penobscot Marine Museum now has 50,000 of the company’s negatives, the largest Eastern Illustrating and Publishing Company collection under one roof, as well as several hundred additional postcard negatives, and around 4,000 postcards.

Collecting postcards, deltiology, is the third largest “collectible” hobby in the world. Sending postcards is enjoying resurgence. In 2005 a man in Portugal founded an organization called Postcrossing which allows people to exchange postcards worldwide. This website, www.postcrossing.com, now has over 570,000 participating members across 215 countries and in ten years, over 31 million postcards have been sent around the world.

Postcards are studied by sociologists and art historians. The Smithsonian Institution currently has an online postcards exhibit “Greetings From the Smithsonian”. In 2009 the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibited a collection of postcards in “Walker Evans and the Picture Postcard,” and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts followed suit with “The Postcard Age: Selections From the Leonard A. Lauder Collection” in 2012.

Maine’s Largest Pinhole Camera

People check out the giant camera obsura constructed on at the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport.  When the camera is complete, several people will be able to go inside to experience how the image is projected inside real-life cameras.   Gabor Degre | BDN

People check out the giant camera obsura constructed on at the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport. When the camera is complete, several people will be able to go inside to experience how the image is projected inside real-life cameras. Gabor Degre | BDN

Photos and Text by Gabor Degre of The Bangor Daily News

Did you ever wonder how cameras work? With the marvel of digital equipment, it seems almost like magic. You push a button and the image appears instantly. Photo archivists with the Penobscot Marine MuseumKevin Johnson and Matt Wheeler came up with the idea of having a very large camera obscura built, allowing people to walk inside to experience first hand how the image is created and the basic concept of how cameras work.

Kevin Johnson (right) and Matt Wheeler photo archivists at the Penobscot Marine Museum pose for a portrait with a giant camera obsura that is constructed on the lawn of the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport. Gabor Degre | BDN

Kevin Johnson (right) and Matt Wheeler photo archivists at the Penobscot Marine Museum pose for a portrait with a giant camera obsura that is constructed on the lawn of the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport. Gabor Degre | BDN

The first written record about viewing an image like that dates back roughly 2,400 years in China. Later, Aristotle wrote about the use of the principal of the camera obscura , while observing a partial solar eclipse. In the 13th century Leonardo da Vinci gave a detailed description, and using a pinhole camera, in the mid-1820’s Joseph Niepce, a French inventor, captured the first known photograph on bitumen-coated metal plate.

You might be surprised that the principal of the camera remains the same today. With the advancement of technology, pinholes were replaced by lenses made of very high quality glass, to project a tack-sharp image. The recording of that image also went through several changes and now a computer captures the image with the aid of sensors, that replaced the light sensitive materials.

Read the full story at the Bangor Daily News.