Wabanaki Art and Pesamkuk

AMIM NumbersBy now I hope that you’ve seen through our numerous Abbe channels that we produced the inaugural Abbe Museum Indian Market (AMIM) May 18-20. It was a great success and plans are underway for next year. Artists reported some of the most robust sales they’ve ever experienced; an important metric for us. If artists make sales, the Market will succeed. It’s that simple, but it was three years in the making.

AMIM is a key part of our strategic plan for many reasons, but primarily it’s really a reclamation of Indigenous lands. Pesamkuk, or Mount Desert Island, has been enjoyed by Wabanaki people for thousands of generations for subsistence, family gathering, and more. As Geo Neptune writes in Naming the Dawnland: Wabanaki Place Names on Mount Desert Island:

While Wabanaki people traditionally harvested food from the island, the arrival of Euro-Americans eventually created the need to survive in a currency based economy, and Wabanaki culture adapted. Traditional crafts such as ash baskets, birchbark baskets, and porcupine quill embroidery were adapted into smaller, more intricate forms to be sold as trinkets to the tourists—the early Wabanaki fancy baskets. From the 1860s until 1890, Wabanaki encampments alternated among over six different locations in Bar Harbor alone

By 1893, Wabanaki encampments had been banned from the shoreline in Bar Harbor. “Squaw Hollow,” the annual encampment on Ledgelawn Avenue, made its last appearance in 1920 before the property was converted for public use. From this point on, small Wabanaki families continued to visit the island, but their minimal roadside camps were nothing compared to the former encampments. Ultimately, Wabanaki interest in visiting Mount Desert Island, and tourists’ interest in Wabanaki peoples, declined.

Despite this diffcult history, Wabanaki people still call Pesamkuk home by living and working here. And, the Abbe, working with the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance, have produced the annual Native American Festival and Basketmakers Market for 25 years. It’s an important festival and one that matters to Wabanaki artists, but there was a need for more. And the Abbe was positioned to do more.

We’ve written about the development of AMIM extensively on our website and on our main Abbe blog; the essence is that the Abbe needed to and did find a way to deepen economic opportunity for Wabananki artists on MDI. This tourist-based economy offers so much and with an investment from the Abbe, we could harness it in new ways. We spent the past three years traveling to shows in Santa Fe, Phoenix, Los Angeles and more to recruit artists to join us. We also learned from a consortium of show organizers the ins and outs of Indian Market production. And we hired a talented and well-connected market producer Dawn Spears (Naragansett/Choctaw) to help us.

As the Market took its shape on Saturday morning – tents going up, artists setting up, and volunteers and staff taking their places – it was evident that MDI is a Wabanaki place. And as we moved into a day of live music, a Native fashion show, and a weekend-long Indigenous Film Festival, it was clear that Bar Harbor can be THE destination for Northeastern Native Art.

AMIM 2018 Collage 1

This post is the first in a series sharing why there was an unplanned hiatus in writing and why it’s all good.


Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko is the President and CEO of the Abbe Museum. Working in museums for more than twenty years, she believes they have the power to change lives, inspire movements, and challenge authority. A museum director since 2001, Cinnamon is a frequent presenter at national museum meetings and is often asked to comment on national museum issues. She has been the driving force behind the Abbe Museum’s decolonization initiative, working with the Native communities in Maine to develop policies and protocols to ensure collaboration and cooperation with Wabanaki people. In 2016 Cinnamon gave her first TEDx talk, We Must Decolonize Our Museums. She’s the author of Museum Administration 2.0 (2016), The Art of Healing: The Wishard Art Collection (2004), and co-editor of the Small Museum Toolkit (2012). She recently appeared on Museopunks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s