Midcoast ‘Lost Art’ found in Lewiston

Jun 11, 2018
Courtesy of: Museum L-A A handwoven fishing net by Port Clyde’s Ed Thorbjornson is on display this summer at Museum L-A in the Lewiston Bates Mill complex.

Lewiston — Museum L-A, in the Bates Mill complex at 35 Canal St., honors artisans throughout Maine in its new gallery exhibit, “The Lost Art of Handiwork.” The show opens with a public reception Wednesday, June 13, from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

Throughout the evening, visitors will be able to meet and talk with the crafters about their work that is on display, as well as watch demonstrations of real-time weaving and embroidery.

Among the makers honored is fisherman Ed Thorbjornson of Port Clyde, whose handwoven fishing net is hung in the gallery. For years, nets were woven by the hands of fishermen in St. George and other ports along the Maine coast. Twine, specifically chosen based on its weight and buoyancy, would be woven (“laced”) together to create fishing nets extending more than 80 feet. This tradition was passed on from generation to generation among fishing families until restrictions and regulations on fishing brought the work to a halt.

For years, Museum L-A has been collecting the history of the ancestors of the Maine community, preserving mementos of their hard work, ingenuity and creativity. Many of the pieces in the collection are handcrafted items including an embroidered baptism set, hand-forged golf clubs and personally designed wood, stone and metal weaving hooks. These represent a traditional history of making things that has almost been forgotten by some. Drawing inspiration from these items, the idea for an exhibit celebrating the crafts and goods made by hand began to form.

Capturing the essence of the artisan’s story and personality was essential when trying to decide what kinds of pieces of handiwork needed to be displayed in the exhibit. Needed were pieces that would represent both the past and traditions that are rapidly disappearing.

One such piece was found in the museum’s collection. Madame Martha Grenier Rivard’s tablecloth covered her large dinner table whenever she had a gathering; she invited her guests to sign it and it quickly filled with songs, birthday wishes, signatures and heartfelt dedications in both English and French. After the gathering was over, she would stitch over these notes to create an embroidered record of events and memories spanning more than 50 years.

Although the traditions of handiwork seem to be disappearing, there are still contemporary iterations of crafting happening in our communities today. In an effort to capture those contemporary works, Museum L-A sent out a statewide call for submissions of handmade pieces of art and handiwork. Jury members, also crafters, reviewed the work and were surprised to see the variety and quality of works brought in. Submissions spanned all techniques and styles, from textile crafts such as embroidery and quilting to woodworking and metalworking.

“We have heard countless stories about the traditional craft work that was made by workers in the mills and in the community, and realized that there are still people making things with their hands today,” said Emma Sieh, Museum L-A’s collection and exhibits coordinator. “Especially with the resurgence of community craft fairs, these artisans are putting their skills to the test and changing the way we look at ‘traditional handiwork.’”

“The Lost Art of Handiwork” will be on display in the Museum L-A gallery through Sept. 15. Throughout the duration of the exhibit, crafting events and workshops hosted by Museum L-A will be available for the public to attend. Museum L-A is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Special tour requests and large group tours outside of these hours are available by appointment; contact info@museumla.org or 333-3881.

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