They Took to the Woods: Life and Leisure in Northern Oxford County

Opening on Thursday, June 29, our major summer/fall exhibition will explore how nineteenth century communities and wild-land townships in the northern part of Oxford County along the Maine/New Hampshire border developed their unique character through the efforts of loggers, farmers, speculators, hunters, fishermen, and other outdoor enthusiasts. On view Thursday – Saturday from 1:00 to 4:00 pm through mid-October at the Dr. Moses Mason House.

Members: FREE Non-members: Donation

Contemporary Art by the Bethel Plein Air Painters

Robinson House:

On Wednesday, April 26, an exhibit of locally created art will open in the Valentine Gallery at Robinson House. Featuring a variety of paintings in various mediums by the “Bethel Plein Air Painters,” the display will include works by Betsey Foster, Melody Bonnema, Linda Isham, Peter Musso, Mary Isham, and Saranne Taylor. This colorful art show remains on view through Friday, June 23, with many of the paintings available for purchase (a portion of each sale helps support educational programming at MBHS).  Photo courtesy of Erik Koeppel.

The Mountains of Maine: Skiing in the Pine Tree State

Robinson House (through spring 2018):

Created by the New England Ski Museum and recently transferred to Ski Museum of Maine ownership in memory of John Christie–legendary ski racer, former general manager of Sugarloaf, and member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame–this exhibition features some 60 photographs and artwork with text and captions drawn from the collections of the NESM, with considerable assistance provided by the Ski Museum of Maine.

In the annals of New England skiing, the State of Maine was both a leader and a laggard. The first historical reference to the use of skis in the region dates back to 1871 in New Sweden, where a colony of Swedish immigrants had been induced to settle in the untamed reaches of northern Aroostook County. The first booklet to offer instruction in skiing to appear in the United States was printed in 1905 by the Theo A. Johnsen Company of Portland. Despite these early glimmers of skiing awareness, when the sport began its ascendancy to popularity in the 1930s, the state’s likeliest venues were more distant, and public land ownership less widespread than was the case in the neighboring states of New Hampshire and Vermont, and ski area development in those states was consequently greater. Only in the 1950s did the construction of alpine ski sites become commonplace in Maine, many of them conceived as economic development initiatives. From 1950 until the mid-1970s ski areas sprouted all over the state, until ski area creation slowed nationwide. Maine’s relatively late start allowed its ski area builders to benefit from the expertise of ski resort planners like Sel Hannah and the Sno-engineering firm, and permitted its state government to enact environmental legislation before overdevelopment marked the landscape as it had elsewhere. Numbered among Maine’s distinctive impacts on skiing are far-ranging Nordic marathons; inventions and improvements in snow grooming tractors and implements; a unique university program that trained students for varied careers in the ski business; and the organizational and financial know-how one ski area owner employed to create an assemblage of ski areas on a national scale.

Members: FREE   Non-members: Donation

A River’s Journey: The Story of the Androscoggin

One of the largest rivers in New England and the third largest in Maine, the Androscoggin drains an area of over 3,400 square miles in Maine and New Hampshire.  The 170-mile waterway begins its journey near Errol, New Hampshire, where the outlet to the Rangeley Lakes and the Magalloway River join, and—punctuated with numerous rapids and impressive waterfalls (including that at Rumford, shown at left)—eventually mingles with the waters of the Kennebec River in Merrymeeting Bay below Brunswick, Maine, before flowing into the Atlantic.

Molly Ockett and Her World

This exhibit tells the story of Molly Ockett, an Abenaki Indian of the Pigwacket tribe whose lifetime (ca. 1740-1816) spans an important and particularly tumultuous period in this region’s past.  Born at Saco, Maine, Molly Ockett—baptized “Marie Agathe”—is one of the best-known individuals from the local past in the mind of the average resident of western Maine.  As an itinerant healer and herbalist for both natives and newcomers, Molly Ockett established close relations with the early settlers in such communities as Andover, Fryeburg, Poland, Paris, and Bethel during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  Such ties enabled her to gain an intimate view of white society as it spread throughout the vast wooded domain long occupied by her ancestors.

Bethel: A Historic Town

Situated in the fertile Androscoggin River valley surrounded by some of the highest mountains in Maine, the town of Bethel traces its origins to a 1768 grant made by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to men whose ancestors had fought in a campaign to conquer Canada in 1690. Originally named “Sudbury Canada,” in honor of these early grantees from the town of Sudbury, Massachusetts, and their campaign against Canada, Bethel was first settled by people of European descent in 1774.

Hooked Rugs: Art, Craft, and Design

Robinson House (January 31 through December 29, 2017):

The first publication acknowledging the craft of rug making was a pamphlet listing the exhibitors at the First Exhibition and Fair sponsored by the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association in 1838 at City Hall in Portland, Maine.  Even before that date, however, yarn-sewn or shirred “hearth rugs” were commonly produced to brighten up unused winter kitchen fireplaces during the hot summer months in Maine and the Maritime Provinces of Canada.  Unlike some early home crafts, rug-hooking survives today, having long ago transformed itself from a strictly utilitarian production to a major role-player in the history of American decorative arts.  Featuring a variety of antique, vintage, and contemporary rugs –plus other hooked items — this year-long display explores the unique story of non-woven rugs.  Members: FREE Non-members: Donation

Portions of this exhibit and its associated programming have been supported by the Florence Bickford Hastings Traditional Crafts Fund.

Image: Circa 1890 hooked rug made by Hannah J. Noyes (1862-1956) of Greenwood, Maine.

Dr. Moses Mason House Period Rooms

July & August, Thursday through Saturday, 1:00 to 4:00 PM; other times by appointmentDr. Moses Mason House (1813), parlor showing Chester Harding portrait of Dr. Mason

One of the finest Federal style residences in its region, the Dr. Moses Mason House was constructed in 1813 on a spacious lot facing onto the common at Bethel Hill village. According to Dr. Nathaniel Tuckerman True, Bethel’s eminent nineteenth century historian, this house was the first on the common to be painted white, the first on a high foundation of granite slabs, and the first to make use of exterior shutters. The house and grounds were renovated and restored in 1972-73 by the Bingham Trust, which presented the property to the Bethel Historical Society in memory of William Bingham 2nd, the town’s great twentieth century philanthropist.

Nine rooms in the front portion of the Mason House now appear much as they did during the occupancy of Dr. Moses Mason (1789-1866) and his wife, Agnes M. Straw (1793-1869). These rooms contain a wide variety of eighteenth and nineteenth century examples of the decorative arts, many of which are original to the house. Other furnishings from the Society’s permanent collection are also on display throughout the various rooms. The most captivating feature of the Mason House is located in the front hallway, which contains Rufus Porter School wall murals—on the upper and lower floors—painted during the mid-1830s and attributed to Jonathan D. Poor, a nephew of Rufus Porter. Depicting distant seascapes and colorful landscapes with lush foliage, these intriguing examples of American folk art have been painstakingly cleaned so that modern-day visitors can view them much as they looked during the Masons’ era.