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BATH — As the front campus of the Maine Maritime Museum undergoes a major facelift, plans are also underway for a renovation and reconfiguration of the museum’s main galleries.
The central display space, which has generally held a fixed exhibit since its June 1989 opening, is at the heart of that revamp. Next to that area sit the Crooker Gallery, which has largely had the same display for 15 years, and the Morse Gallery, which hosts rotating exhibits twice a year – most recently “The Tropics Next Door.”
The museum plans to update the original “Maritime History of Maine” space, and have a new rotating exhibit in each of the other galleries each year, exhibits Curator Chris Timm said April 3 during a tour of the 243 Washington St. museum.
“There’s a panel here that talks about Soviet fishing ships,” Timm noted with a smile. Of course, the Soviet Union ceased to exist in 1991.
“The main gallery exhibit has remained virtually unchanged since opening this building,” Katie Spiridakis, the museum’s marketing and communications manager, pointed out. “Meanwhile, many, many other exterior exhibits and (interior) changing exhibits have been updated. This one is the last to address.”
Additions to the Kennebec River campus include the life-sized evocation of the Wyoming – the largest wooden ship ever built in the U.S. – as well as a blacksmith shop and a lobster and lighthouse exhibit.
The original display was “perfect for 1989,” he acknowledged.
But people’s interests, and the nature of historical narrative, have changed since then; conservation and the future of Maine’s ecology, and the story of its indigenous people, are themes to tackle from a more modern perspective, Timm said.
“We’re changing the way we approach the space,” he explained. “… We want to expand (our) percentage of temporary exhibits, have things changing much more often.”
The Morse Gallery’s display this summer will be “Shipwrecks and Salvage,” which he called “an easy entry point into maritime history. It’s something that people romanticize and get excited about.”
He referred to the many wrecks along the coast, visible or not, present or past, such as Wiscasset’s former Hesper and Luther Little schooners. The history of those vessels and the evolution of diving technology will be explored.
“It’s going to be a much more immersive exhibit,” Timm said.
“Literally,” Spiridakis quipped.
The Crooker Gallery’s first temporary exhibit – “The Frozen Kingdom,” delving into Maine’s role in the ice trade, and as a recreational destination for winter sports – is due to launch in November.
Having two revolving exhibits allows the museum to showcase more of its vast collection. Less than 20 percent can be displayed at a time.
“I feel like the coolest things in the collection are rarely on exhibit,” Spiridakis said, referring to a diving suit that lurks in the museum’s basement. It will surface in this summer’s exhibit.
“The tip of the iceberg is what you see in the exhibits,” Timm said. “… You’re actually going to see more of our collection, rather than if it’s just the same over 15 years.”
One of the goals for renovating the core exhibit is to tell Maine’s maritime history in chronological order, as opposed to sporadic themes, Spiridakis noted.
“I feel like you need to be led in the direction that we want you to, to get the best experience,” she said.
“We really want to be able to tell a very engaging and coherent maritime history,” Timm added.
The museum could apply for funding next year to renovate and reconfigure that space. It first needs a planning grant in order to determine the project cost.
Meanwhile, the museum is about a month into its “First Impressions” project, geared toward improving the aesthetic appeal and accessibility of its front campus along Washington Street.
As of last week, the yard’s trees had been removed, and 9,000 yards of fill brought in – from the Wing Farm business park construction site of the new Morse High School – in order to vastly improve the north parking lot’s grade.
The fenced-off north campus might have looked a little like a war zone, but large signs along the street made it clear that the museum remained open and directed patrons toward alternative parking on the campus.
The work – which this fall will see the planting of 73 new trees, 2,078 shrubs, and 1,446 perennials and grasses – hasn’t adversely impacted business, Spiridakis said.
“This is our slow time of year anyway,” she said. “It doesn’t sound like we’ve had any major dips, and actually I think there may be a little bit of people’s curiosity playing in, so people are still making it in the door, which is great.”
“It’s only going to get easier,” Spiridakis added, noting that the front lot should be usable again by June. “I think the worst hurdle was the beginning.”
The Maine Maritime Museum will remain open during its massive “First Impressions” project. Trees have been removed and 9,000 yards of fill brought in, and new shrubbery is planned for this fall.
Katie Spiridakis, Maine Maritime Museum marketing and communications manager, and Chris Timm, curator of exhibits, in gallery space that will be updated.