Visitors attend the Maine Maritime Museum's 50th anniversary receptionby Chris Chase
Coastal Journal staff
BATH — The Maine Maritime Museum is celebrating its 50th year through the next six months with a special exhibit dedicated to some of the best items the museum has to offer.
The special exhibit was kicked off with an evening reception in which trustees and contributors got to get an early look at the completed exhibit, and got to meet the men responsible for getting it to where it is.
“I was involved in starting the museum,” said Charlie Burden, one of the founding members of the Maine Maritime Museum and one of the designers of the new exhibit. “It’s the most important thing I’ve done in my life probably.”
Burden has been one of the mainstays of the museum, and has worked tirelessly to find and acquire many of the museum’s vast array of ship memorabilia, an extensive collection totaling over 20,000 items.
This particular exhibit was a chance for Burden to pick out some of the items he felt were the best, either for their unique nature, their value, or the story that went along with them.
“I wanted to find a variety of things,” said Burden. “I like objects with an interesting story.”
Some of those objects include paintings, equipment, and models of ships. In addition, the first item the museum ever obtained is on display, a large mallet that little is known about, other than its description.
The exhibit’s items span a variety of aspects of shipbuilding and trade in the area, and offer a breadth of information on what the area’s maritime history entails.
Nathan Lipfert, the Senior Curator for the museum, assisted Burden in putting the exhibit together.
“Charlie came up with the original list,” said Lipfert. “I came up with a secondary list, and then we went back and forth from that.”
Both men said they enjoyed putting the exhibit together, because it was a chance to show the best of what they had.
“It was fun, because you weren’t held by theme or subject area,” said Lipfert.
The reception held on Nov. 9 was a chance for the volunteers and contributors to get an exclusive look at the exhibit while appreciating the hard work it took to get it ready.
Getting things ready was the responsibility of Chris Hall, the Curator of Exhibits for the museum. For Hall, this exhibit was both easier in some aspects of its completion, and harder in others.
“This show, I didn’t have to worry about the concept,” said Hall. With Burden and Lipfert selecting all the items, Hall only had to worry about putting them in place.
Getting them in place, though, was a real challenge for some of the items. One in particular was a large banner suspended from the ceiling, emblazoned with the words “Carroll Deering.” The banner dominates the exhibit, stretching across the entire ceiling. Getting it into place was difficult, because the banner is nearly 100 years old, fragile, and incredibly heavy.
“We had to clear everything out of the room and hoist it up there carefully,” said Hall. “It was a real challenge. This is the first time it’s really been shown.”
According to Hall, getting everything ready for an exhibit is never easy. The museum only has two weeks to get everything together and set up, and even the most carefully laid plan can go wrong quickly.
“You never know until you do it,” said Hall. “There’s a thousand little problems that can come up.”
Even with the challenges, the exhibit was fully operational and put together by the time of the opening reception on Nov. 9.
Amy Lent, the Executive Director of the museum, addressed the crowd at the reception and gave all of the credit to Burden and the other members of the staff who made the museum possible.
“I’m very, very lucky to be the executive director today,” said Lent. “I get to be the one to celebrate this major, 50-year milestone.”
According to Lent, the museum has been improving each year, and has been seeing steady increases in attendance. This year, the museum has seen 50,000 visitors, and shows no signs of slowing in its mission.
“We are really living up to the promise of our name,” said Lent. “These successes are the result of a lot of hard work by many, many people.”
Burden says he knew from the start that the museum would be an important contribution to local culture, but never anticipated the kind of place it has grown into today.
“No, I thought it would be more than just a storefront museum,” said Burden, “But I never thought it’d be like this.”