Kosti Comes Home: Penobscot Marine Museum Acquires Kosti Ruohomaa Photo Collection

Kosti Ruohomaa self portrait series

The archive of negatives, contact sheets, and prints of Rockland, Maine photographer, Kosti Ruohomaa, have come home to Maine as the newest addition to the photography holdings of the Penobscot Marine Museum. The collection was recently donated to the PMM by Black Star of New York, Ruohomaa’s photography agency, and consists of thousands of medium and large format negatives, 35 mm negatives and slides, as well as contact sheets and vintage prints.

During the age of the photo magazine, Kosti was a rock star in the photography world. His photographs graced the cover of Life Magazine numerous times. Other major magazines such as Look, National Geographic, and Life used his photos regularly. He moved to Dodge Mountain in Rockland at the age of 13, where his family had a blueberry farm. He discovered his love for photography in the 1930s while working as a cartoonist for Disney. During the 1940s and 50s, his career blossomed. While he photographed around the world, Maine was his favorite subject, both the people and land. He died prematurely in 1961 at the age of 47.

Stanley Powell of Washington, ME aka “the lobster eater”. One frame of 72 negatives of Powell demonstrating how to eat a lobster.

Kosti was a storyteller with a camera. He captured the spirit and culture of Maine through its people and landscape like few other photographers have ever done. Howard Chapnick, who headed the Black Star photo agency for which Ruohomaa shot many of his images, once said, “The word [‘artist’] is thrown around with gay abandon in photography: ‘This picture looks like a Rembrandt, this one like a Renoir.’ Kosti’s photographs do not have to be compared to the work of painters. A Ruohomaa picture looks like a Ruohomaa!” His work has been the subject of exhibits at the Farnsworth and the Maine State museum. A biography, Kosti Ruohomaa: The Photograher Poet, by Deanna Bonner-Ganter was published by Downeast Books in 2016 and a portfolio of his work, Night Train at Wiscasset Station by Lew Dietz came out in 1977. His photographs are iconic and familiar, especially in Maine.

Portrait of Andrew Wyeth who called Rouhomaa the best photographer in Maine.

The Kosti collection is a remarkable resource on several levels. While his published work is fairly well known, it represents less than 10% of the photographs he made. The rest of his photographs have never been seen by the general public. He worked on hundreds of assignments, and each is represented in the collection in separate envelopes which contain the negatives, Kosti’s write-ups on the shoot, and contact sheets with selected images marked with wax pencil. It’s an amazing backstage look at the photo magazine work process. Kosti was vocal in his write-ups as to his opinion on selects and cropping. He had clear ideas of what he was going for in a shoot, and a study of the contact sheets shows how he went about realizing his vision and his method of approaching a photo story. More than a third of his assignments were Maine-based.

The Penobscot Marine Museum is thrilled to be entrusted with this Maine treasure. We will begin a search for funding that will cover the costs to catalog, re-house and digitize the collection. It will be ultimately be made available to browse for free in the museum’s online database. Kosti’s cousin, Janice Lachance, said “Kosti would be very happy to know his photographs have returned to Maine.”

Night train at Wiscasset Station, perhaps Ruohomaa’s most well known photograph.

Abstract photograph of the catch on a Maine dragger

Old School

From the original photo description:

“One of the smaller canoes with its crew of three about to depart for a night’s fishing. Contrast of primitive equipment with modern buildings in the background is typical of Mexico.”

1962, no photographer attribution

It Starts Out Here

Aboard an Alaskan salmon troller, this crew member dresses the catch for market. The photo date is unknown, but was originally published in Pacific Fisherman, a similar publication for the west coast which was bought and absorbed by NF in the mid 1960s.

West Coast Giggers

The Cornish gig Treffrey was a noteworthy entrant at the second annual Traditional Small Craft Association meet in Santa Cruz in October, 1979. She reportedly had a top hull speed of 10 knots, and had travelled around 400 miles over land for the event from Arcata, CA, with her captain and crew. Her name was borrowed from an 1838 gig, whose lines are the basis for modern racing gigs.

Gig racing has its roots in Cornwall in the Isles of Scilly, where traditional examples had a 32′ LOA and a 4′ 10″ beam. They were built as general workboats and often used to taxi pilots out to incoming vessels. Historically, the pilot on the first gig to reach the vessel in need was the one who got hired, so gig racing has its origins in financial reward.

The sport has become popular in the US, particularly in New England. Belfast, ME (near Searsport, home of Penobscot Marine Museum) launched Come Boating, a community boating program, in the early 2000s, largely to promote pilot gig rowing and racing. Three gigs have been built locally for the program–the Belle Fast, the Selkie, and the Malcolm G.

Handlining Mackerel

In the Gulf Stream near Hatteras Island, Fred Fox hauls a king mackerel aboard his offshore commercial rig. (1990)

Penobscot Marine Museum Photo Exhibit Tours Lincoln County

The New Bridge, Wiscasset ME

The Lincoln County Court House will host the Penobscot Marine Museum photo exhibit, Lincoln County Through Eastern’s Eye during the months of August and September. It is the 3rd stop of this traveling exhibit which has spent time now at the Boothbay Railway Museum and the Sheepscot General Store.

During the height of the postcard craze which swept Europe and North America during the early 20th century, a local entrepreneur saw opportunity and founded the Eastern Illustrating and Publishing Company in Belfast, Maine. For more than 40 years, EIP capitalized on the niche created by Herman Cassens by producing “real photo” postcards featuring views of small towns and rural byways throughout the eastern United States.

Eastern photographers roamed the countryside throughout the warm months every year, each photographer well-versed in his sales region. Though they remain largely anonymous, their work, consisting of tens of thousands of large format negatives, has been preserved at Penobscot Marine Museum and has become a peerless photographic survey of small town America in the northeast during the first half of the 20th century. The collection is the subject of a documentary film by Wiscasset filmmaker Sumner McKane, The Northeast by Eastern as well as a book, Maine on Glass by Kevin Johnson, Earle Shettleworth and William H. Bunting.

Wiscasset is the county seat of Lincoln County and a perfect place for this exhibit to be on view. The courthouse is open every weekday from 8:00-4:30 and is free and open to the public. PMM photo archivist Kevin Johnson will give an illustrated slideshow during the exhibit’s stay in Wiscasset and share the story of Eastern Illustrating as well as more images of Wiscasset. Date to be determined so stay tuned!

The Lincoln County Courthouse is located at 32 High Street, Wiscasset, Maine 04578
Call for more info: Carrie Kipfer (207) 882-6311

Maine Marine Fare at Penobscot Marine Museum

Saturday and Sunday, September 9 and 10, Penobscot Marine Museum will host their first Maine Marine Fare in celebration of all the foods from the abundant waters of coastal Maine. The two day program will include talks, panel discussions and educational tastings, featuring fishermen, food producers, aquaculturists, researchers and scientists, and members of the food and hospitality trades.

Noted author Paul Greenberg (Four Fish, American Catch, PBS Frontline’s “The Fish on My Plate”) will be the keynote speaker. A James Beard Award winner, who is also a Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation and an avid fisherman. Greenberg will talk about the state of the seas, especially relating to Maine and the abundance (or lack thereof) of our seafood.

Saturday continues with panel sessions featuring fishery stakeholders who will delve deeper into the past of how we ate fish, the present state of the fishery, and future solutions in sustainable wild-caught and farmed seafood. Natalie Springuel from Maine Sea Grant will chair a panel to survey the Gulf of Maine’s wild fisheries and current issues surrounding traditionally harvested species and sustainability. Maine Aquaculture Association’s Sebastian Belle will continue the discussion with a panel devoted to farming the sea in all its aspects— including salmon, yellow-tail, shellfish, sea weeds and vegetables, and a new effort to promote land-based fish farming. The day’s events will conclude with Polly Saltonstall, editor in chief of Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors, and a panel devoted to marketing, as the vital link that connects fish in the sea to fish on the table.

On Sunday chefs and food writers will talk about using local Gulf of Maine seafood in their kitchens. Demonstrations and tastings will show how cooks, including new immigrants, integrate Maine seafood into traditional recipes; there will be an oyster tasting from various points along the Maine coast, and a tasting of a variety of smoked seafood.

Islesboro’s own Sandy Oliver, Maine’s premiere food historian whose specialty is the food traditions of the New England coast, will kick off the day with a talk and demonstration.

A panel of Maine chefs, moderated by journalist/food writer Nancy Harmon Jenkins, will consider what we are eating from our waters now. Panelists will include several James Beard nominees who are innovating with Maine seafood, as well as some non-traditional food personalities who have brought new perspectives to Maine dining.

Cipperly Good, Penobscot Marine Museum Collections Manager/Curator will moderate a panel of Maine journalists who will consider how consumers and producers alike, can support healthy, healthful, sustainable and economically viable Maine fisheries.  

Chef Sam Hayward

Maine Marine Fare will end with a dinner called “Food from Our Seas,” prepared by chef Sam Hayward with the assistance of Ladleah Dunn. Hayward, named “Best Chef in the Northeast” by the James Beard Association, co-owner and executive chef of Fore Street Restaurant in Portland, has been called “Maine’s Food Hero” for his promotion and innovative use of Maine food products from the land, the sea, and everywhere in between. Dunn is a chef, gardener, food consultant, and boat-builder in Lincolnville. 

Tickets are $15 for Saturday’s discussions, $40 for Sunday, including the various demonstrations, and $75 for Sunday night’s dinner. Saturday and Sunday ticket prices include Museum admission. Museum member discounts are available. Click here for more information and complete schedule, or call 207-548-2529.