By Ramona du Houx
Maine Historical Society’s (MHS) new exhibition, Holding up the Sky, at their Portland gallery runs from April 12 to February 1, 2020. It honors and explores the experiences of the First People of Maine — the Wabanaki, which includes the Abenaki, Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot people.
Holding up the Sky explores Wabanaki philosophies of leadership and obligation relating to humans and non-humans by highlighting 13,000 years of Wabanaki residence in what is now known as Maine.
Wabanaki advisors guided the exhibition, interpreting 17th century colonial treaties, photographs, heritage items, and contemporary artworks—everything from ash baskets to haute couture fashion. Wabanaki voices provide context for the present-day relevance and repercussions of 400 years of shared histories between Wabanaki people and immigrants to their region.
“We believe that it is essential to explore, honor, and help all Mainers better understand the 13,000-year experience of the Wabanaki and their strong continued presence in Maine as the state prepares to commemorate its Bicentennial in 2020,” said Steve Bromage, MHS executive director. “Their story and our shared history provide the foundation for understanding Maine statehood, the context for key issues that shape Maine today, and perspective that will help us plan a future that draws on the strength of all Maine people.”
The exhibition is built around the voices and perspectives of Wabanaki people and is being developed in collaboration with a team of advisors, including:
- Lisa Brooks (Abenaki),
- James Francis (Penobscot),
- Suzanne Greenlaw (Maliseet),
- Darren Ranco (Penobscot),
- Theresa Secord (Penobscot),
- Ashley Smith (Wabanaki descent), and
- Donald Soctomah (Passamaquoddy).
The exhibit explores Wabanaki philosophies of leadership and obligation and will consider thousands of years of life in “Maine” places prior to the arrival of Europeans, and the complex relationships that have evolved since Europeans settled here.
In addition to items from Maine Historical Society collections and newly commissioned pieces by Wabanaki artists, the exhibition will feature artifacts loaned by many individuals and organizations, including: Abbe Museum, Hudson Museum, Passamaquoddy Cultural Heritage Museum, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Maine State Museum, Nova Scotia Museum, and Bangor Historical Society.