Wish You Were Here
Penobscot Marine Museum spotlights postcards and other imagery that have been used to communicate “Maine”
Inspired by the 100th year of Maine Postcard Day, Penobscot Maine Museum in Searsport will highlight historic postcards, photographs, and contemporary art in Wish You Were Here: Communicating Maine, a series of exhibits that explore the changes in the images that have been used to celebrate the state. “Maine is more than its breathtaking mountains and rugged coastline; it is also the extraordinary and ordinary people and their communities,” says Kevin Johnson, PMM’s photo archivist. “These exhibits look at a wide range of compelling images and the stories behind them.”
Postcards were the Instagram and Facebook of their age. An estimated 200 to 300 billion postcards were produced and mailed worldwide from the 1890s to the 1920s. In 1916 Governor Oakley C. Curtis proclaimed April 19th “Maine Postcard Day” and asked all citizens to send postcards of Maine to people out of state with the message “Come to Maine”—a kind of early hashtag. This year, PMM is collaborating with the Maine State Library system to distribute postcards with historic images from the museum’s photography collection to libraries across the state for patrons to mail during Library Week, April 10th through 16th. In addition, Belfast artist M.J. Bronstein has used photos from the collection to design postcards visitors can draw on, creating one-of-a-kind works of art to send to friends.
Among the museum exhibits is Historic Maine, a Postcard View, which examines locally produced postcards from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century. Most American postcards from that era were mass-produced in Europe, but Eastern Illustrating and Publishing Company in Belfast manufactured their own cards using a labor-intensive darkroom process that created crisper images. The company’s photographers traveled across New England in Model Ts, shooting small town and rural scenes that were often overlooked by larger firms. You’ll also see postcards by Evie Barbour, who photographed the Blue Hill area, and Frank and Bart Cunningham, who documented the area around Washington, Maine. Oral histories of Mainers, a trailer for a documentary on Eastern Illustrating and Publishing Company by Wiscasset filmmaker Sumner McKane, a Model T outfitted with contemporaneous photography equipment, and the museum’s giant, walk-in camera obscura, which demonstrates the inner workings of a nineteenth-century camera, round out the exhibits.
Acadia National Park, a Postcard View, showcases 50 years of images of Maine’s most famous park, all produced by Eastern Illustrating and Publishing Company. For Maine’s Changing Sense of Place, guest curator Carl Little, author of Paintings of Maine and Art of the Maine Islands, chose photographs and postcards from PMM’s collection and asked artists to create their own interpretations of the imagery. The historic and contemporary works will be displayed side by side.
The exhibits will run at PMM from May 28 through October 16. On the following pages, MH+D presents a preview.