Sunday, September 16, 2007

Maine CulturePass
Folklorist's Report
International Passamaquoddy Region,
Tides Institute and Museum of Art, Eastport, Maine

CulturePass is funded by the Maine Arts Commission through their Discovery Research grant program, by the Maine Community Foundation, the C.F. Adams Charitable Trust, the Betterment Fund, and the Tides Institute & Museum of Art. CulturePass is a project of the Tides Institute and Museum of Art in partnership with other collaborating institutions, organizations, and individuals from throughout the Passamaquoddy Region. Discovery Research is intended to facilitate community participation in the consensus building process in which cultural resources and needs are identified through one on one interviews with artists, historians, community members and tradition bearers. An important program objective is to assist communities in discovering their own cultural resources. In most cases, those resources are community participants who may not recognize their importance and the personal role they have in developing community cultural identity. The Maine Arts Commission hopes that by providing funds to survey local events, artists, traditions, and tradition-bearers as well as cultural organizations which promote or support the performing, visual, craft or literary arts the local community will be engaged in the identification of their own resources. As a cultural organization in the region, the Tides Institute has a vested interest in identifying, supporting and expanding the cultural resources of the region, both in Maine and in New Brunswick, Canada. “The purpose of this project is to gain a greater understanding of the rich cultural heritage and artistic life of our region through shared resources. Our common shoreline border gives us a unique perspective on the world which is reflected in the work we do and the art and other cultural activities that we create.” (From The Tides Institute/CulturePass website at

The International Passamaquoddy Region: Exploring the Presence and Sense of Place
In my short time in the Passamaquoddy Bay region* the physical presence of the area and a sense of place dominated all my conversations and experiences with various community members. Each place, person and town is connected in some way to the water at this part of coastal Maine and southwestern New Brunswick and historically and culturally to each other. The region’s location dictates, as it has forever, occupations, seasonal changes, what is fished or harvested from the water and earth, the reasons that people settle here, why tourists travel here and how life continues year after year.

“Presence” of place is made up of the tangible, physical aspects of an area--a sort of geographic/physical/living index of what exists: the mountains; the shore; where the water meets the earth and the sky meets the water; the tides; morning fog; mud flats; buildings on main streets; styles, shapes and conditions of boats in ports; artists’ studios and what artists make in them; festivals and parades; gardens, fields and farmers’ markets; farm animals and wild animals; the fish; types of mercantile products including storefronts and signs--things that can be seen and touched. The “presence” of a place is the structure upon which lives are built and maintained, year after year, generation after generation.

“Sense” of place is an intangible index -the history of a place, the stories about work, family, friends, communities; ways people feel and talk about where they live, what they do, why they came, why they left or why they stay; oral traditions that dictate how to do something right; celebrations and rituals that have meanings and connections; things that inspire writers, artists, musicians; the smell of the air; feelings of remoteness or vitality as the seasons change; cadence; the importance of taking care of one’s own and watching out for each other. Sense of place is the unseen net that weaves together the lives of people with their environments.

The international border crossings at Calais, Lubec and Milltown that connect to St. Stephen and Campobello have traditionally been a formality; generations of people traveled between them on a regular basis and at one time, a trolley ferried people across at Milltown and St. Stephen for a nickel. Today, stricter border regulations and heightened homeland security measures threaten the fluidity the region has always known. Location also dictates the harsher realities of the area including fluctuations of the economy, potential severity of the weather, the social fabric of each community and issues and controversies that can and have divided small communities by the presence of outsiders and the ideas and changes they sometimes bring with them.

*The geographic scope of this project is bordered by the St. Croix River, Passamaquoddy Bay and Cobscook Bay and by the communities of Lubec/Whiting, to the south, Calais/St. Stephen/St.Andrews to the north and Sipayik/Eastport and Grand Manan to the east/southeast. The area considered for this project has historically been framed by shipbuilding or customs districts as well as the traditional lands of the Passamaquoddy.

The area is rich in local history and people who have taken on the responsibility of collecting, organizing, writing and documenting the history. Historical societies on both sides of the international border contain objects, documents, photographs as well as historic properties that can tell the story of how and why a town was settled, how it operated, who lived there and events that happened. These individuals and collections document long gone industries, important people and wild schemes and ideas. They chronical the lives of both the wealthy and the working class through their collections and archives. But on a less grand scale, they also speak to the importance of local memory, creating a link between past and current generations and to the role of oral tradition in shaping community.

“All along the way as I was working in the woods some of the elders that were working then, I’d spend time with. They’d talk history and culture and everything. I started spreading out into the community a little deeper, learning family histories, cultural histories, my own history. It’s sort of strange, because as I was talking with the elders, they’d speak in the [Passamaquoddy] language and when I’d go home I’d think about my younger days and some of the stories told to me. It sort of was coming back.”

Donald Soctomah, Passamaquoddy Tribal Historian, Princeton
At her home in Dennysville, local historian and retired teacher Rebecca Hobart maintains an impeccable catalog of her town, church and local school. With the aid of detailed and captioned photographs she is able to recreate the sense of what life was like in this region when she was born, in Edmunds in 1921. Like many people in the area, her family roots are long and deep. As a local schoolteacher for forty years she often sees former students and their children and grandchildren, creating a link that goes backwards and forwards. Her memory also serves to create a visualization of how the area looked and felt, what shops and roads existed and how people interacted with their environment.

“We had school no matter what. And I remember that house, the parsonage that was being rented one winter to my father’s cousin and her husband, and they had a daughter. I stopped down on their veranda one morning to wait for Betty to walk to school with me and there was a thermometer hanging there. It was thirty below—I was on my way to school!”

Rebecca Hobart, Former School Teacher, Dennysville
The attention paid to history is also a community endeavor. In many communities, access to the local historical society and their collections is available because of the dedicated commitments of passionate individuals. In St. Stephen, the Charlotte County Historical Society, Inc.was founded in 1961. In 1977, the town leased the James Murchie Memorial Building, an 1864 house, and spent the next several years renovating the building and in 1980 created the Charlotte County Museum. The museum presents changing exhibitions and maintains a varied collection representing the “history, social and economic life of the county from the late 18th to the mid-20th century.” Honorary Past Chairwoman, Marian Bain, was born in St. Stephen and left to attend college in New York City. She taught at McGill University in Montreal until she retired and moved with her husband back to the area. Her husband died shortly after their return.

“So the museum saved my life. It’s always a two way street. It enriched my life and opened an all-new interest for me.” Marian Bain, Honorary Past Chairwoman, Charlotte County Museum

Director Irene Ritch, current President Lyman Hardin and trustee Joan McKnight acknowledge the important contribution Marian Bane has made to the organization: “Safe to say, without Marian, this place would not exist.” In Calais, The Holmes Cottage, a restored house museum on Main Street, is open to the public today because of the efforts of community members, including Brand Livingston, whose family spans many generations in the area. Brand’s father was the first president of the St. Croix Historical Society and today Brand is a retired-president, but continues to actively promote the Holmes Cottage and the work of the Historical Society. The importance of community members like Marian Bain and Brand Livingston cannot be underestimated. Historical Societies and House museums are labors of love that are both expensive and time consuming. Unlike county archives, which are frequently supported with government records funding, local historical societies face funding shortages and aging audiences. A reduction in school field trip funds further limits the exposure of local history as a teaching resource and the potential for future audiences. Without the volunteer commitment of community members, historical societies and museums cannot exist.

History is also told through the folklore and stories of local communities. These stories present a colorful and rich history of an area and the people who lived there. In Lubec, eighty-nine year old Edith Comstock grew up less than a mile from the home she lives in today. She too has catalogued the history of the area through photographs, letters and newspaper-clippings. But she is most remarkable for her storytelling ability. Many important local events happened during her lifetime and she can recall them based on personal experience, making her a rare and wonderful example of living history-an enormous resource for community members, especially school children. She recalls the story of the Klondike Factory and the “Electrolytic Marine Salts Company” in Lubec.

In 1897, ’98, this Reverend Prescott Ford Jernigan, he was an ordained minister and he was from Cape Cod. He had gone to the seminary and either bought or leased that set of buildings from Hiram Comstock. And he had a secret formula that would extract gold from seawater. It was a secret formula. The only part that he would ever divulge was that this formula contained mercury so the gold would adhere to the mercury. But it had to be where the tide, like a creek or stream, that would flow in and out—low tide, high tide. So he searched all over everywheres and finally he settled on this down here and became the Comstock Plant #1 for his ‘gold from seawater’. The name of the company, it was quite impressive, was Electrolytic Marine Salts Company.”

Edith Comstock, Lubec
Edith also remembers her parents and grandparents talking about the factory, enhancing her own research into the events. Because the scheme involved the purchase of Lubec property and the hiring of local workers to run the factory, it was a financial success for Lubec. According to Edith, most of the investors were from out of town and few local people were hurt by the endeavor.

“It seems he had a friend that was in on this scheme; his name was Charles Fisher. And he was a diver. So at night when it was high tide, when the tides run, after dark, come to find out, this Charles Fisher would put on his diving apparatus and go down. He had these things he called ‘accumulators’ and as the tide went in and out with this secret formula in there, the gold would be in the bottom. But in the dark of night, when it was high tide, Fisher would go down and he had a little gold dust that they used to get from New York somewhere—they had a supply and occasionally a tiny little nugget. And they’d put it in these huge accumulators, which Fisher would do under the cover of darkness. And the next day went it was low tide, they’d take these accumulators out and low and behold, there was gold!”

Edith Comstock, Lubec
At the Charlotte County Archives located in St. Andrews people can tour the “Old Gaol” and see how criminals, debtors and other unfortunates were punished. One of the cells has a supernatural legend that people recall and the archivist can tell visitors the story that involves an eerie, annual, occurrence which was documented by at least one local official.

History can also be created. In 1909, Edwin Grozier, Publisher of the Boston Post invented a marketing ploy to promote the newspaper throughout rural New England. The newspaper commissioned several canes with 14-carat gold heads engraved with the inscription “Presented by the Boston Post to the oldest citizen of (name of town).” Upon the death of the oldest citizen the cane was to be passed on to the next oldest person. Many communities have since stopped the practice for several reasons (canes disappeared and found at online auctions, people move out of their town and take them with them), but in the town of Pembroke the Boston Post Cane exists and it is shared by Waldo (age 102) and Kathleen (age 99) Tarbell, lifelong residents of the area. (A scan of recipients of the cane reveals that presenting it to a “couple” is rare and the Tarbells’ combined age of 201 makes them even more special.) Such customs may seem arcane today, but the celebration of the life of a very old person is a way of creating a human connection to the timeline of history. For Waldo and Kathleen, the exact dates and times of events and occurrences in their lives is less important today than independently maintaining their own home and taking care of each other. The fact that this tradition is practiced in many rural Maine towns speaks to the importance of local traditions and respect for the elderly—a disappearing tradition that continues in Pembroke.

In An Explorer’s Guide to Maine, travel writers Christina Tree and K.W. Oxnard write, “With its flat, haunting light, Eastport has an end-of-the-world feel and suggests an Edward Hopper painting.” (p.466) The writers are describing an intangible feeling, and impression--a visceral reaction to a place. It is a description of both the “physical place” of Eastport and their own, personal “sense of place.”

For many years Eastport was known for its sardine canneries, but other things were and continue to be produced, farmed and fished in the waters of the Passamaquoddy Bay. The landscape often tells stories about what existed and flourished in an area. The wooden buildings that line the main streets of Eastport and Lubec provide a sense of a once-vital economy that supported the many families who relied on the local fishing industries for their livelihoods. Today, their downtowns have small businesses, antique stores, coffee shops and diners, thrift stores or art galleries; most are seasonal and cater to a summer population. Empty storefronts are common and businesses change often. In the town of Lubec, abandoned herring smokehouses can still be seen.

In St. Stephen and St. Andrews, New Brunswick, downtowns remain vital because of the diversity of industry. St. Stephen is home to the Ganong Chocolate Company and Chocolate Museum, which employs many local people and is a tourist destination. St. Andrews maintains a healthy tourist economy and is rich in artistic and cultural resources. On both sides of the St. Croix River, tourism continues to be a major source of income for owners of Bed & Breakfasts and others that offer accommodations.

For the Passamaquoddy Indians, the connection to the land is central to their entire belief system. Prior to the Annual Indian Day Festival a call goes out to members for the Canoe Trip. “Come and be part of a journey that the Passamaquoddy ancestors have paddled since the beginning of time. Paddle the same waters that your relatives continue to use and always will use. It’s time to renew the spirit that dwells deep inside all of us, to remember who we are and to honor the ancestors. It’s a time to reflect on the past, the present and also the future.” This annual ritual begins in Indian Township and arrives at Pleasant Point the next afternoon where it is greeted by most of the Sipayik community.

The landscape continues to inspire people, despite the changes.

“I’m glad I’ve lived when I have and where I have. When I was a child I roamed the fields from here to the River on this side and to King Street on that side. I knew every inch of it. I knew when the strawberries were going to ripen and the raspberries and blackberries. Up river, where there used to be an Indian village in the spring, Indians would come down river to spear salmon there. I went skiing all up across and enjoyed all of that. As long as I was able to I still did and I used to go berrying all across the countryside. I’ve never traveled a great deal cause I never had the chance when I was young. I didn’t the money and during my mother’s sickness I was confined. I was content where I was.”

Rebecca Hobart, Retired Teacher, Dennysville
The area also drew people during the “back-to-the-land” movement of the sixties and seventies. Eastport artist Elizabeth Ostrander was one of those who left New York City with her husband and young child to move to Washington County near other friends and acquaintances.

“We were all looking for heaven, for Nirvana, for somewhere; that was the time, back to the land; gaining control out of your life; life was really crazy so we came up here. Well, I think we were trying. There’s Scott and Helen Nearing who wrote this classic How to Live Sanely in an Insane World. And I think we were all searching for that and finding that. Especially after the killings in Kent State happened. This was very alarming that we weren’t indeed the darlings of the world. It wasn’t you could really change the world and you went back to this kind of “Candide” thing of ‘hoe your own garden’ and do that and so it was back to the land and try to create enclaves of sanity.”

Elizabeth Ostrander, Artist, Eastport
There were mixed reactions to the newcomers attempting to farm on land that was difficult for experienced farmers who had lived in the area all their lives.

“We had this barn and were so naïve. We bought these animals and then we didn’t know anything. And our dear neighbor, Mr. Clark across the street, he would say things like, ‘Well, I don’t want to boss you now, but I wouldn’t use a manure fork for that hay.’ Things like that. And he would always start things with ‘I don’t want to boss you now’ but he just looked at us and thought ‘Oh, these poor folks.’ But he was very respectful of us and very sweet and wanted us to do well. At the same time, we were difficult, not just us, but the whole group of people. We came in there, we had independent money, whatever that might be, which meant their society didn’t have any control on us and we came in with a different set of values; different values then you might have found in the middle class from where we were coming. We were also mysterious, cause we were well educated but we were poor.”

Elizabeth Ostrander, Artist, Eastport
People depended upon each other to get through the early years.

“We just came up here fresh. And actually, Leattrice and her then partner were up here and they ran into Virginia Pottle and said ‘There’s some people from New York; I think they’re pretty miserable. I think they could use some cheering up.’ So she came with a box of ‘Lila’s’ donuts, which was an enterprising business up here…and smoked fish and some beer and cheddar cheese from the Farmers’ Union in Perry and that just made a whole difference. She arrived on the doorstep and I sort of reluctantly let her in and then we’ve been friends since.”

Elizabeth Ostrander, Artist, Eastport
Other families, like the Bells of Tide Mill Farms have roots in the region that go back to the 18th century. In 1765, Robert Bell arrived from Scotland looking for opportunity and came to Eastport. He found his way to some available land in Edmunds where he opened a gristmill. He ran the mill and died in 1803. He is buried on the family property. More than 150 years later, Alton Bell, left the farm and Maine when he moved to Maryland after graduating from college in Orno. In Maryland, he married and started his family. After a few years, Alton’s father, Ralph Bell, called him back to the farm.

“We remember our grandfather. My grandmother died in ’55 and then the winter of ’56, Ralph was so lonely that summer he wrote to Alton and said ‘If I have another winter like that I’ll do something to get in jail so at least I’ll have some company.’ So that’s when dad basically told us it was time to go home. That’s how he phrased it.”

Terry Bell, Tide Mill Farms, Edmunds
Working in the Passamaquoddy Bay Region has always depended on what was available and the season. Many people continue to hold seasonal jobs, just as they did when the canneries employed most local people. Fishing, farming, logging and other seasonal jobs continue. Seasonal work often means that people have several types of jobs, for instance, waitressing one season, housecleaning the next; fishing and construction work during slow times.

Farming in the area necessitates new and creative ways of making an income that often involves risk and adaptation to a changing market. For example, besides the blueberry market some people are raising and harvesting cranberries.

Brothers Bob and Terry Bell, owners of Tide Mill Farms remember when farming was common in the Edmunds area.

“In the 60s there were twenty-eight dairy farms. There was an eighteen cow herd just a mile up the road and then another twenty cow herd just a mile from him. And then you’d go down the Lubec road and there’d be fifteen. So everyone, you were relating to everyone cause they knew what you were doing. As we got into high school, these farmers were selling out. There was a big push from cans to bulk pack. Used to be the 10- gallon milk cans, they weren’t sanitary enough to stay or to keep the milk cold and the handling of it. So then it went to the bulk mild which requires the stainless steel bulk tanks. More expense. And many of these people who were milking cows had a bus driving job or a job delivering paper, cutting wood or some other job. So they got out. Whereas dad said’ Well, the processing plant needs more milk’ so we decided to expand and we embraced it.”

Bob Bell, Tide Mill Farms, Edmunds
The physical landscape and nature of farming had not changed during the time their grandparents and great grandparents farmed, but they experienced their parents struggle to make the farm work.

“Trying to figure out what farming would work here. I know there was quite a struggle with my parents trying to make ends meet and get some sort of income. Dad went to some of the mills in the area looking for a job and it didn’t seem to pan out so we had wood harvested and tried to get an income from the wood. He did that and some dairy farming; expanding the farm to get an income for my grandfather and father. My mom got a job as a home-ec teacher so that subsidized a lot of the farming.”

Terry Bell, Tide Mill Farm, Edmunds
At the Farmer’s Market in St. Andrews a range of farming products are for sale. Some include items made at Hilltop Maples owned and operated by J&J Lord of Elmsville, NB who sells their own maple syrup and other maple products. Glebe Road Gardens in Chamcook, NB, owned and operated by Marilyn and John Allen, specialize in a variety of heathers and cut flowers. The heathers, while beautiful and easy to grow, require highly acidic soil. Habib Kilisli grows and sells “organic, exotic & domestic vegetables and herbs” while his wife Turkan cooks and sells a variety of middle eastern foods such as hummus, babaganoush and breads with and without meats. All of these farmers travel to the outdoor markets in St. John and St. Andrews on a weekly basis throughout the summer and fall to sell their products directly to a growing market that wants to know where their food comes from and how it is grown. This approach to farming and direct selling is providing an additional source of income to the small farm grower, especially those that specialize in exotic and organic produce. At Tide Mill Farms, the next generation of Bells is already developing ways of producing and selling organic milks, but for larger farms it is not an easy shift. It is a consideration when discussing the future of the Tide Mill Farms.

“The woods will always be a major part; farming will be rotated through different aspects. Even Aaron and I talked today about the organic niche that he’s filling that makes it profitable for him. We were addressing Wal-Mart and three dollar a gallon milk-organic. That doesn’t allow Aaron to get what he needs to compete. Everything goes in cycles. It may not be dairy farming.”

Terry Bell, Tide Mill Farms, Edmunds
Fishing the waters around the Passamaquoddy Bay involve change as well, following the season and attempting to tap into new markets by rethinking fish and other items once considered inedible. Edith Comstock of Lubec commented that someone locally was experimenting with sea cucumbers.

“When I was packing sardines, that (sea cucumbers) was trash. It would come in with the sardines and we just put that with the trash fish. And they’re’ kind of slippery and slimy. And the same way with squid. Oh, we’d thrown away more squid. Then I found out it’s calamari—that’s an exotic dish. I’ve eaten it; I’ve tried it, not in Lubec. I had to go to Florida to try some of these things. Different things like that, we didn’t know they were edible.”

Edith Comstock, Lubec
Other seasonal catches include sea urchins, scallops, crabs and small periwinkles. New ways of catching and processing fish have also occurred. According to The Bay of Fundy Inshore Fisheries brochure produced by the Coastal Livelihoods Trust “The inshore ground fishery is the oldest commercial fishery in SWNB (southwest New Brunswick). Early settlers fished rich cod, haddock, pollock and hake grounds. Today, handline, longline, gillnets and small draggers also target halibut and dogfish. Crab picking is also a seasonal occupation for those in the area. The in-depth knowledge of how and when to fish the Fundy tides is passed on from generation to generation.”

Working in sardine factories and canneries was a common experience shared by many residents. Edith Comstock of Lubec recalled that the season went from mid-April to the end of October when the last fish were caught.

“Sometimes the fish would be large, depending on where they caught them, or when they caught them or the season. Sometimes you’d get only four fish in a can and then at another time, another season, probably spring or summer, the little tiny fish-at that time we called them ‘brit, B-R-I-T.’ We would have to pack double rows and sometimes we’d have to pack anywheres from twenty to twenty-two, twenty-four in a can, two rows. And then there was four fish in a can, and we used to have five and eight. Now, the eight fish was good—that as a good size, to put eight in a can. It would depend on the way they came.”

Edith Comstock, Lubec
Sardine packing was primarily done by women, standing at tables, filling the cans, sending them off in crates to be further processed or packed with mustard or oil. There was a general collegial feeling among many of the women and much has been documented about the history and folklore of the canneries in the area. Working in one of the canneries was almost a rite of passage for many local men and women.

“When I got be 14, you had to apply for a work permit and then I could pack fish in the sardine factory. And we had a nickname called ‘the herring chokers.’ That’s due to the way they used to be processed. They’d put the herring on what we’d call flakes and racks. And then they were put in steam boxes and they were all steam cooked. So that made them soft. And when they were taken to the packers to be put in cans they were soft and you could take your fingers, when they were put in cans, you could take your thumb and forefinger and squeeze their heads off and put them in the cans. So we were ‘choking’ them. That’s how we got the name ‘herring chokers.’”

Edith Comstock, Lubec
For many, finding work in the area was difficult. In some families, one parent would often go away to work, retuning when the work was finished. Joan Barnes, a retired Passamaquoddy bi-lingual teacher recalled how difficult it was for her parents to make a steady living that would support her many brothers and sisters.

“My father was a laborer. He worked very hard all his life. We rarely saw him at home. He was always working, doing what he could to provide for us. When I was a teenager, my mother worked—seasonal work-- wreath making, working at the Riviera Factory in Eastport. They packed sardines. Both my parents worked there. It was a difficult time, providing for so many children. My father worked in the woods and construction. Then he went away to work. I don’t know what year it was, went to work in the shipyard in Portland. Then he would come home on weekends. So he had a lot of jobs.”

Joan Barnes, Retired Bi-Lingual Teacher, Sipayik, Pleasant Point
Like many young people from her community, Joan Barnes moved to Massachusetts, near a sister to find work. She wasn’t alone. Many Passamaquoddy young people left Maine to earn a living.

“It was exciting being in the city. I babysat for my sister and then later went to work. My first job was at a chocolate factory, packing chocolates. That was a hard job, had to be fast, fast with your hands to keep up. There was quite a few families that lived there. They left here to find jobs, so there were a lot of people from here and we’d get together. We used to get together and we’d have a game. You’d have to speak all Passamaquoddy and if you spoke a word of English, you’d be out. So we’d keep going and the one that was left would be the winner. Many families moved and lived there, maybe twenty families. They’ve all moved back home, most of them have.”

Joan Barnes, Retired Bi-Lingual Teacher, Sipayik, Pleasant Point
When Donald Soctomah was hired to mange the Passamaquoddy tribe’s forestlands he saw an opportunity to expand the employment opportunity of his people.

“I got to a situation where there was only one Indian logger in the woods. They had about twenty logging crews and only one native worker and I said ‘something’s wrong here.’ You know our unemployment was at 70%. I developed a forest enterprise where we bought skidders and sold them to tribal loggers and started to replace the non-tribal logging operations with tribal skidders and tribal people working in their woods. That was probably one of my proudest moments-to get tribal people back in the woods, to start the operation and the same people that I started with back then are still working in the woods, so it’s very fulfilling.”

Donald Soctomah, Passamaquoddy Tribal Historian, Princeton
Hugh Parks of Breadalbane in New Brunswick also had many jobs before dedicating himself full time to his woodcarving business, “Feathers in Wood.” As a young man he was a meat cutter (his father was a quarryman and owned a grocery store in St. George) before joining the Royal Canadian Army. Deciding that he was better suited to working for himself he chose not to stay in the family business but to be independent.

“I didn’t like working in the store. I got out of the service and worked for my dad for eight or nine years and then I started a salvage, auto salvage business and ran that for a few years. I fished for a few years, commercial fishing, lobster fishing. And then left that and went to work with a second-hand shop, buying used furniture, cleaning it up and selling it and we (along with his wife, Wanda) did that for six or seven years out here in Breadalbane.”

Hugh Parks, Woodcarver, St. George
Artists As Local Resources
The area around Eastport and St. Andrews are rich in traditional and fine arts, music and theater, creating a physical identity through galleries, arts organizations, craft fairs and festivals and a sense of place for the inspiration the landscape invokes and provides.

Artists and the communities they create are often hailed as economic strengths for cities and towns. In Maine, the idea of the “creative economy” addresses issues of both tourism and local jobs. A community that embraces its artists by supporting them financially and socially through the development of affordable live/work spaces, jobs in local schools, industries, taxes dedicated to public art project, incubators and colleges and by buying, showing and endorsing the one of a kind works and unique ideas that artists contribute creates a more sustainable and diversified economy and community of people.

In St.Andrews, Cottage Craft Ltd. continues to employ many knitters and weavers to make their fine woolen goods. Grace Helen Mowat, who grew up in St. Andrews and returned to the area after attending college in New York, started the business in 1915. Today, the business is owned and operated by Evan Ross, the grandson of one of Grace Mowat’s friends. Evan’s father and then himself purchased the business several years later. The idea is to employ knitters to produce sweaters, hats, mittens and other woolen items using wool provided by Cottage Craft. They also sell the wool directly via the Internet, through the shop and by phone along with several patterns for some of their most popular sweaters. Operated today almost as it was more than ninety years ago, relationships with their knitters, the majority of whom live in New Brunswick, is personal. Knitters are encouraged to make suggestions and improvements to the patterns. Many continue knitting for the company until they are no longer able to do the work due to age or health. Sometimes, daughters and granddaughters are knitting for the business as well. The same original dyes that were developed years ago continue to be used and have such localized names as “Fundy Fog Blue,” “St. Croix Navy,” “Quoddy Blue,” “Live Lobster,” and “Maritime Blue.”

In Eastport, a long-standing arts community continues to exist with a cooperative gallery on Main Street and successful new Eastport Arts Center that features live performance, music and dance.

Clara Keezer is a Passamaquoddy basketmaker. The tradition of basketmaking goes back several generations among the Passamaquoddy and many people remember their great grandparents, grandparents and even parents making baskets and selling them away in Boston or Bar Harbor. Joan Barnes remembers her great grandfather dressing in traditional regalia and selling his baskets at fairs. Clara Keezer learned the art of traditional basketmaking from her grandmother and mother. Born on the Sipayik reservation in 1931, where her grandparents and parents were also born, she recalls:

“My grandparents made baskets everyday. I guess that’s how I got to start. It was after my grandfather died and I got married and lived with her and she used to have a friend that she’d work with at her house. They’d sit and make baskets all day and then she’d come home; do the same thing everyday. She used to work and save her baskets and then go on a trip to sell them before Christmas. And then in summertime they used to go to summer places, Kennebunk, Boston and those places, the men and the women.”

Clara Keezer, Passamaquoddy Basketmaker, Sipayik, Pleasant Point
She also recalls a time when ash was plentiful in the area and it was the responsibility of the men to go out to harvest it. Today the ash she uses is bought from someone locally. Clara is a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow, the highest honor this country pays to traditional artists. As a master basketmaker she has also taught the art to others in the community through mentorships. Her two sons, Rocky and Kenny, also make baskets, as does her brother, Peter Neptune.

Recently, the Passamaquoddy Tribe reached a land deal with the Maine Coast Heritage Trust to protect hundreds of petroglyphs along the Machias Bay that were carved by their ancestors. The petroglyphs are images pecked into the stone outcrops and have existed there for more hundreds of years and, according to tribal elders, visually tell the legends of the Passamaquoddy people. According to the Portland Herald Tribune this past September “At a meeting on August 29, the Passamaquoddy Joint Tribal Council voted unanimously to approve a resolution for the purchase of the Picture Rock property and a conservation easement for the Moose snare property, both in Machiasport.”

The Maine Coast heritage Trust will purchase the site and will turn the land over to the tribe. In exchange, the trust will receive a conservation easement that will allow for continued agriculture use, such as blueberry production, but will not allow subdivision or residential development. In doing so, the Passamaquoddy Tribe will preserve the pictures, which tell stories, document historical events and chronicle the development of early relationships with settlers, for generations to come.

Artists have been attracted to the region for many reasons including the landscape and the growing attention to the economic development of artist based resources. Many have adapted their own homes into studio spaces as well.

For woodcarver Hugh Park, the birds that surround his New Brunswick home serve as the inspiration for his work. Collectors from around the country who sometimes visit him at his home studio covet his carvings. His wife, Wanda Parks, is a gifted quilter who helps run her husband’s woodcarving business. Her quilts are all handmade and reflect her ability to extract inspiration from her natural environment as well. Today she sells her quilts, but prefers to make them as gifts for her family. Each child and grandchild receives one when he or she is born and when he or she marries.

Elizabeth Ostrander, a sculptor in Eastport, opens her yard and gardens to the public as well. It is where she often displays her organic and ethereal pieces. Her business card describes her work as “Created on the edge of the Maine coast, on Moose Island; mermaids, goddesses, green men, and other joyous beings echo ancient secrets of quietude, beauty and nature’s wisdom.” Although she stays involved in the local arts community in Eastport she shows and sells her work to a wider audience.

Craig Little is a model shipbuilder in Calais. His downtown apartment/studio storefront displays many of his commissioned pieces and in the back rooms he has several in production. He specializes in ships of the Maritimes and sells to collectors. One ship may take several months to finish.

In St. Stephen, painter Jean Taylor Murphy also uses her home as a studio, creating paintings of landscapes, memories of places she has lived and traveled and friends. A self-taught artist, she finds inspirations in the colors that surround her on a daily basis.

Kerry Jackson currently directs the St. Croix Theater Company in St. Stephen. Jackson returned to St. Stephen after living in Vancouver for several years. He answered a call for actors to audition for the company and like many in Community Theater, became involved in all aspects of their productions, from business office management to set building. It is perhaps in the area of local theater that the greatest potential for international exchange and collaboration exists. Both Calais and St. St. Andrews have theater companies that have developed strong audience support. The St. Croix Company routinely sells out their annual production held at the local middle or high school auditorium. Cross collaborations and traveling plays could develop into a successful region-wide theater community.

During my first visit to the region, Ruth McInnis, the owner of Todd House Bed and Breakfast in Eastport where I stayed took all of her guests to her church’s breakfast. The breakfast at the Christ Oak Episcopal Church consisted of the usual fare with the inclusion of baked beans. This gesture is a good example of the way people in the area build and support the community. The breakfast allowed us to engage in a new event together, one that supports both the church and their local volunteer fire department, meets Ruth’s objectives as a local proprietor (not making breakfast at home and contributing to a church fundraiser) and encourages community sharing between guests from away and the local church community. We were graciously welcomed and fed by church members and enjoyed a unique experience with each other.

Community shared events can have a personal element to them, like a church breakfast or supper, or they can be less personal, like a large festival or fair. In between are many events that help to solidify cultural identity or provide community to people of similar interests. During my short time in the region, I experienced a range of these.

The Annual Indian Festival held in Pleasant Point is primarily for Passamaquoddy community members although it is open and welcoming to outsiders. Many tribe members participate in the dances, processions and drumming ceremonies that occur. It is a time of recognition and renewal. Through the series of dances that honor, among others, veterans and their support systems, other tribes and elders, involvement is encouraged and supported. In one dance, the celebration of the elders is especially moving. All of the events that occur are inclusive engaging the audience in the dances, the teens in the drumming circle, the elders in honoring ceremonies and the larger spirits whose presence is always invoked and welcomed. The festival is self-supporting and does not rely on corporate support or vendor fees.

For a week in mid-August the towns of Calais in Maine and St. Stephen in New Brunswick simultaneously celebrate their close relationship through the International Festival. On both sides of the St. Croix River music, performances, street vendors and parades mark the physical and strong personal connections between the two towns. “The International Festival has evolved into a week-long celebration of the friendship shared between Calais, Maine and St. Stephen, New Brunswick. The Festival began as a three-day event put on by the St. Stephen Rotary Club in 1974 and now spans more than a week of pageants, concerts, parades and other family events–ending with the traditional fireworks show to close out the week. The populations of both cities almost doubles during this week as family and class reunions revolve around the Festival; hence the newly named International “Homecoming” Festival.” (

On the second and fourth Mondays each month a group of musicians from the area meet to play and sing in Dennysville at the Dennysville Community Building. Not only do they attract a generously large crowd of musicians, singers and songwriters, but several community people participate as audience members, singing along to songs they recognize, tapping their feet, drinking coffee and applauding for the musicians after each song. Musicians take turns around a circle, playing a song and others who can join. Among the types of instruments included in the circle are guitar, mandolin, fiddle, whistle, banjo, cello, bagpipes and keyboard as well as their voices. The songs range from traditional ballads to locally inspired and written songs.

Challenges, Comments and Acknowledgements
During my time in the International Passamaquoddy Region people in both Maine and New Brunswick talked about the rapid changes happening in their towns. From community efforts to stimulate interest in the practice and preservation of Passamaquoddy traditions and language and gaining official recognition by the Canadian Government of the Passamaquoddy that live there, to the highly charged issues of land development and unemployment, the region continues to grapple with complex issues that affect the economic and social fabric of the area. The proposed LNG project in Pleasant Point is an issue that will divide many and may take years to resolve.

Future Discovery Research in the region is also important to maintain the momentum begun by this project. In-depth fieldwork into the working and economic lives of those that fish the waters would be primary. Such things as the cyclical nature of fishing, occupational folklore and folk art, stories, histories and other aspects of the fishing industry should be explored. Another area to be mined are the musical traditions of the region, including the drumming circles of the Passamaquoddy and local string and bluegrass bands. Songs written in response to local issues and conflicts present an alternative voice of protest and should be documented.

Conducting field research into the culture of a community is a difficult task for someone from the outside. Without assistance identifying potential contacts, making arrangements, developing a schedule and helping to facilitate interviews the project would have taken much longer. Community knowledge, trust and understanding take months, sometimes years to develop. Jude Valentine, Coordinator of the Discovery Research Project and CulturePass, was instrumental in making those connections. It also takes a generous commitment of time and valuable, personal resources from the many people who agreed to be interviewed for this project; I have listed their names at the end of this report. I would also like to acknowledge and thank the project sponsors who realize that this type of work is as essential to a community as fixing the streets or strengthening local businesses. Communities, especially in small and rural areas, depend on people to create an identity, to create and share with both outsiders and insiders their “sense of place.” The Passamaquoddy International Region has a hauntingly beautiful physical presence that is matched by the richness, depth and diversity of the people.

Mary Zwolinski
October 2006