“People of the First Light,” which tells the story of the Wabanaki people, opened on May 1 at the Abbe Museum. The exhibit is the first of its kind at the museum. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ABBE MUSEUM

‘People of the First Light’ exhibit opens at Abbe

BAR HARBOR — The Abbe Museum opened “People of the First Light,” a new core exhibit, on May 1. It is the first large-scale permanent exhibit of its kind for the Abbe.

“This exhibit has been four years in the making, with a two-year interpretive process,” said Abbe Museum President and CEO Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko. “We worked with 23 Wabanaki curatorial consultants, four Native artists, three designers, nine staff members, four exhibit fabricators and more than 30 additional individuals, businesses and volunteers to make this exhibit come together.”



“People of the First Light” introduces visitors to the Wabanaki universe, engaging them with the culture and history of a people that is unfamiliar to many. Bringing together oral traditions, personal stories, cultural knowledge, language and historical accounts with objects, photographs, multi-media and digital interactives, the exhibit shares a wide variety of content and perspectives around more than 12,000 years of history, conflict, adaptation and survival in the Wabanaki homeland.

The design of the exhibit space has been developed with a contemporary feel, shaped by the work of Wabanaki artists who have been a part of the design process from the beginning. The central piece of the exhibit is a two-story sculptural ash tree that will draw the various sections of the exhibit together. Artwork and illustrations by Maliseet artist Gina Brooks, among other Wabanaki artists, are the foundation of a visual experience that reflects both Wabanaki traditions and current experiences.



“The exhibit’s content, artifacts, images and interactive and participatory elements have been informed by the Abbe’s recently adopted interpretive framework, as well as input from our Native Advisory Council and Native advisors,” said Julia Gray, director of collections and interpretation. “People of the First Light will form the new core of our exhibits program and will offer a new dynamic for our educational programs.”

While it will be the museum’s largest exhibit, there will continue to be dynamic and stimulating changing exhibitions – like the popular annual Waponahki Student Art Show – in the Abbe’s smaller galleries, and at the museum’s second location, Sieur de Monts Spring, inside Acadia National Park.

“People of the First Light” was made possible through major support from Anonymous Foundation, Bar Harbor Bank & Trust, Bangor Daily News, Dickel Flooring, EASTER Foundation, Institute of Museum and Library Services, Lucia P. Fulton Foundation, Lynam Trust, Maine Public Broadcasting Network, George and Nancy Putnam, Sharpe Family Foundation, Tranquility Farm families, and Sandy Wilcox and Jack Russell.

The mission of the Abbe Museum, Maine’s first and only Smithsonian Affiliate, is to inspire new learning about the Wabanaki Nations with every visit. The Abbe works closely with the Wabanaki people to share their stories, history and culture with a broader audience. With a collection of over 50,000 archaeological, historic and contemporary objects, the museum’s collections conservation program is recognized nationally as a model for museums. The Abbe also holds the largest and best-documented collection of Maine Native American basketry in any museum. Visit www.abbemuseum.org.

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