Wednesday, February 25, 2009


"Even today., in societies of almost universal literacy, it is a rare soul who bequeaths to future historians a written account of his thoughts...How can you study a society if you attend only to the expressions of a small and deviant class within the whole?" (Schlereth 142)


Schlereth, Thomas J. ed. Material Culture Studies in America. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press, 1999.


material culture consists of “artifacts (and other pertinent historical evidence) of the belief systems---the values, ideas, attitudes , and assumptions---of a particular community or society, usually across time (Schlereth 3). It can include “landscapes, tools, buildings, household goods, clothing, and art;” it is the communication of specific human messages through objects (McDannell 2).


McDannell, Colleen. Material Christianity; Religion and Popular Culture in America. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995.

Schlereth, Thomas J. ed. Material Culture in America. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press, 1999.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


The Curran Homestead Living History Farm and Museum Receives Two Grants from the Maine State Archives

AUGUSTA-The Curran Homestead Living History Farm and Museum has received $1,738.96 for a Historical Museum Collections Grant and $2,651.44 for a Historical Facilities Grant to improve both the documentation associated with their collection of material culture and to improve facilities housing for their historical collections. The grants were provided by the Maine State Museum with funds from the State of Maine’s New Century Community Program.

One of the projects will include creating archives of oral histories by Dr. Robert Schmick, a volunteer director of The Curran Homestead, that links specific tools for blacksmithing in their collection with their use by a professional blacksmith still practicing traditional techniques. In this series of digital recordings, the uses of each blacksmithing tool in the collection will be addressed as well as step-by-step directions on how to complete a number of forge projects.
Master Blacksmith Robert Robinson of Split Rock Forge in Stockton Springs, ME will additionally share his knowledge of local blacksmithing practices of the past and give instructions on the firing and maintenance of the forge during the metal fabrication process.

These recordings will eventually be made available as podcasts on the Internet. The equipment for recording, processing, and storage of these oral histories provided by this grant will further assist in the completion of a series of recordings on a variety of themes including the material culture of rural life and family farming in Maine and specific farm and commercial tasks particular to our region’s past like ice harvesting and the making of maple syrup, among others.

The second grant will provide the funds for the materials to build a wooden blacksmithing shed on the farm and museum site. This structure will be entirely constructed by our volunteer staff. It will house our collection of tools and accoutrements for blacksmithing that includes a portable forge with a built-in bellows. It will provide a space for blacksmithing instruction, forge projects, and storage of student work in the future.

“These grants support community efforts to preserve and share the stories of our people, our towns, our families and how we lived our lives,” noted Joseph R. Phillips, Museum Director of the Maine State Museum. “Without these objects and buildings, important pieces of our Maine heritage would be lost.” Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap says a recent report to the Maine Legislature indicated many of Maine’s historical collections (photographs, paintings, natural history collections, letters, etc.) are in danger of being lost to mold, fire, theft, or misuse. “Maine has an estimated 200 million historical objects and records, many in facilities with little or no security, fire protection, or environmental controls. Maine people in local government, historical societies, and libraries are seeking help to preserve heritage,” Secretary Dunlap commented. Small grants have stimulated local citizens and organizations to commit more of their own resources to these projects. “Although financial support is important, recognition of local concerns and effort through an award should also generate a substantial amount of enthusiasm,” Phillips noted.

For more information about the Historical Facilities and Historical Museums Collections Grant Program, call the Cultural Resources Information Center at 287-7591 or email: .

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ice Harvesting Step-Back-in-History Epilogue

The Curran Homestead had its first annual Ice Harvesting Step-Back-in-History on Sunday, February 15 on Fields Pond directly across the way from the Curran house and barn. There was a turn-out of some 40 plus adults and kids, and many of those kids stepped up to use the tools on hand and actually harvested ice. This was a first for everyone, and there was much enthusiasm displayed in cutting ice block with our authentic ice cutting saws using a circular cutting motion and fishing block out of the frigid waters with ice tongs. Some 30 blocks were hauled up onto the frozen pond surface.

Because of a spell of recent 40 degree Fahrenheit weather in recent weeks, there were actually two layers to the ice blocks harvested. The top was a cloudy mix of 4 plus inches, and the bottom a clear solid mass of 16 inches. Board members Irv and Karen Marsters, Fred Hartstone, Cathy Martinage, and Geralyn Mott were on hand and helped make this happen. Dick Hanson was of invaluable service to this year's harvest leading the preparation for this event as well as the actual cutting of the ice. We look forward to improving our ice cutting technique and invite any future donations of authentic ice cutting tools to add to our collection and lend to greater historical accuracy and the future success of this event.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Now Taking Reservations For Sittings For Your Own Silhouette Portrait

With few affordable heirloom quality gifts out there, The Curran Homestead Living History Farm and Museum is now taking reservations for appointments for sittings for handmade silhouette portraits by Jean Comerford of Portraits in Silhouette of Hardwick, MA on Saturday, April 4, 2009, 10AM - 2PM at 32 Fields Pond Road in Orrington, ME. This mother daughter business features a portrait of a famous New Englander in Yankee magazine each month. They are among a handful of artists nationwide who continue this folk art tradition popular in the US and Europe from the late 18th until the mid-19th century.

According to Dr. Robert Schmick, volunteer director of educational programs at The Curran Homestead, the silhouette portraits done by Ms. Comerford involve a set of very sharp and precise cutting scissors which she uses to snip out a profile of her subject from black paper which is then mounted on white card. What seems most amazing to watch is that through her skill she achieves a likeness in a matter of minutes. I have a double portrait of my son and I and one of my son alone framed that I cherish. The cost is $29 a portrait and $10 for copies. For an additional fee framing is available onsite. Part of the proceeds will benefit The Curran Homestead.

Schmick added that silhouette portraits were available largely by itinerants as late as the 1870s, but they were most popular during the earlier antebellum era before photography became widespread. Framed family silhouettes would have been among the furnishings of rural Mainers throughout the 19th century, and several would not have looked out of place in the Curran House. The State Museum in Augusta has had a large collection of silhouettes of antebellum Mainers on display.

Benjamin Franklin referred to the folk art form as “shade” in a letter to his wife, and this, along with “profile,” were common identifications among others in the late 18th century on both sides of the Atlantic. The art form’s current name comes from Etienne de Silhouette, a general controller for the French government, who had the distinction of being both economic to a fault and passing much time snipping out profiles from paper. The popular and inexpensive shadow portraits were known in England by the name “silhouette” by the 1820s as evidenced by the advertisements of Auguste Edouart. Although single portraits with white backgrounds were the norm, this artist was among those who created elaborate backgrounds with ink washes especially for compositions that included multiple familial portraits like one dating from 1842 at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware.

Silhouettes were both cut and painted, and there were a number of ingenious methods employed from the start to achieve the desired profile likeness. Some required far less skill than others. “Shadowgraph” was yet another given name for the “likeness in bust” that characterized most examples, and this was derived from a mechanical device that cut out a profile in the middle of a sheet of paper. The hollowed out sheet was then adhered to a black or colored sheet that accentuated the profile. There were also full length portraits of individuals available too, and some of these are almost comical in their exaggeration of individual characteristics. The early American artist Charles Willson Peale is known to have offered silhouettes portraits at one of his museum in Philadelphia, one of America’s first.

Portraits in America were largely realized by itinerant artists throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, excluding the few who found early patronage and fame. These itinerants were known to practice a variety of skills to make a living from their town to town and sometimes farmhouse to farmhouse travels. Broadsides and the local papers would advertise the availability of their skills for hire, and exhibitions of their silhouettes were not uncommon at the local inn. With the “sheet method,” a life size shadow produced by candle light, would be traced and then reduced to a preferred size through the use of a contraption called a “pantograph.” Miniature profiles could be produced for lockets or to adorn snuffbox lids. The price of a silhouette, as advertised by William King of Salem, MA in 1804, was “twenty five cents for two likenesses of one person.” King claimed to have traversed New England plying his skills in Boston, New Hampshire, and as far north as Portland. Within a two year period, he advertised that he had made some “twenty thousand profiles,” and if that wasn’t enough of a boast he further claimed to do a likeness in “six minutes.”

Such boasting and showmanship was not uncommon for these “hollow cutters,” as they were often called, incorporating as much flourish and theatrics as they could while doing portraits often before a crowd. This propensity was no better exemplified than by the “Master Sanders K.G. Nellis,” a paraplegic, who with “scissors in toes cut valentines and watch papers very ingeniously, and will also cut the likeness of persons very correctly.” He would also shoot bow and arrow, play the cello, and write with the only limbs he was born with according to an 1836 Salem newspaper advertisement.

For additional information about silhouette sittings or to make a reservation for your sitting on April 4, 2009, 10AM-2PM contact: Robert Schmick at 207-843-5550, or by email: .

Monday, February 2, 2009

Join Us for a Step-Back-In-History with Our First Annual Ice Harvest at The Curran Homestead on February 15, 2009, 2-4 PM

On Sunday, February 15, 2-4 PM, we will go out on Fields Pond and harvest a block of ice. This will be a first for the Curran Homestead Living History Farm and Museum, so it is intended to be informal and experiential rather than a formal historical re-enactment. Using authentic ice harvesting tools from our collection, and substitutions for those we don't presently have and seek for subsequent harvestings, we will cut and transport a block of ice up from Fields Pond to the Curran House kitchen where it will be placed in our vintage oak and zinc-lined ice box for the first time in many decades.

The Curran family once harvested ice from Fields Pond in Orrington, ME. Many Maine farmers similarly utilized what ice they had on their property for personal and commercial purposes. At the beginning of the 19th century, ice harvesting was the seventh largest industry in the US with New England exporting their renowned clear ice blocks to such exotic destinations as the Caribbean and India.

This is foremost a learning experience for us, and we hope it will be for you. Those who attend who have first-hand experiences with or information about ice-harvesting are welcome to share with us, for we will appreciate any such input. We will have a warming center in our Sugar Shack at the farm where hot cocoa will be served. Admission is free.

"Battle of the Bands" To Benefit The Curran Homestead on February 7, 2009

"Battle of the Bands" with at least 3 local bands with Orrington connections will perform at Orrington Center Drive School Gymnasium from 7 to 9 PM Saturday, February 7 to benefit The Curran Homestead Living History Farm and Museum at Fields Pond. Admission: $5 Adults $3 Students.

John Mugnai, Assistant Principal at Center Drive School and President of The Curran Homestead Board of Directors, announced the fundraiser. Mugnai will also perform with "Local Singers," a musical group featuring easy listening selections. Another group called "24/7" will feature classic rock selections, and the "Wheezers and Geezers" group will focus on Bluegrass selections.

Ticket stubs will be used to award door prizes provided by Dead River Energy ($100 of fuel oil), The Bangor Home Depot (hardware items), and Bangor Letter Shop (personalized stationery).

Tickets are available at the Center Drive School office, Snowe's Corner Mobil On The Run, and Bob's Kozy Korner Store, all in Orrington as well as the Bangor Letter Shop at 99 washington Street in Bangor. For additional information, please contact Irv Marsters at 207-745-4426.