Molly Molasses (Mary Pelagie Nicola), Penobscot, circa 1865. She is wearing a trade silver brooch and wampum necklace, both of which are in the collections of the Maine State Museum and will be displayed with this photograph in the Holding Up the Sky exhibit. (Courtesy Bangor Historical Society)
Molly Molasses (Mary Pelagie Nicola), Penobscot, circa 1865. She is wearing a trade silver brooch and wampum necklace, both of which are in the collections of the Maine State Museum and will be displayed with this photograph in the Holding Up the Sky exhibit. (Courtesy Bangor Historical Society)
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Maine Historical Society (MHS) will launch “Holding Up the Sky,” a new exhibition in its Portland gallery from April 12 to February 1 that honors and explores the experiences of the First People of Maine — the Wabanaki, encompassing the Abenaki, Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot people.

“We believe that it is essential to explore, honor, and help all Mainers better understand the 13,000-year experience of the Wabanaki and their strong continued presence in Maine as the state prepares to commemorate its Bicentennial in 2020,” said Steve Bromage, MHS executive director, in a release about the exhibit. “Their story and our shared history provide the foundation for understanding Maine statehood, the context for key issues that shape Maine today, and perspective that will help us plan a future that draws on the strength of all Maine people.”

The exhibition is built around the voices and perspectives of Wabanaki people and is being developed in collaboration with a team of advisors, including Lisa Brooks (Abenaki), James Francis (Penobscot), Suzanne Greenlaw (Maliseet), Darren Ranco (Penobscot), Theresa Secord (Penobscot), Ashley Smith (Wabanaki descent), and Donald Soctomah (Passamaquoddy). The advisors have guided the Indigenous interpretations of historic and contemporary items in the exhibition, encompassing everything from Colonial-era treaties and maps, to baskets and beadwork, to haute couture fashion.

The exhibit will explore Wabanaki philosophies of leadership and obligation and will consider thousands of years of life in “Maine” places prior to the arrival of Europeans, and the complex relationships that have evolved since Europeans settled here.

In addition to items from Maine Historical Society collections and newly commissioned pieces by Wabanaki artists, the exhibition will feature artifacts loaned by many individuals and organizations, including: Abbe Museum, Hudson Museum, Passamaquoddy Cultural Heritage Museum, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Maine State Museum, Nova Scotia Museum, and Bangor Historical Society.