If you visited the museum on a Saturday in February, you may have been invited to participate in a unique project – one that asked our visitors what they want to see on exhibit in the future. The Maine State Museum is working on a new education center that will be family-friendly, great for student groups, and hopefully fun and engaging for all ages. To ensure that we get things right, we intend to test out our ideas.
In February we asked visitors to choose from eight displays featuring “iconic” objects. You may be asking yourself, what is an iconic object? An iconic object helps illustrate one or more important stories about Maine — like our Bryant Pond switchboard pictured here.
Once upon a time, every telephone call had to go through a switchboard operator. In 1983, the Bryant Pond Telephone Company switched off the last commercial switchboard in the United States. For 31 years Elden and Barbara Hathaway had operated the company out of their living room in rural Bryant Pond, Maine, using first one switchboard and then two, as the company grew to serve 481 customers. Next to a very large picture of one of these switchboards we displayed a smartphone, rotary phone, and telegraph machine to further illustrate the rapid changes in communication technology over the last century.
Other iconic objects included a narwhal tusk; snow shoes; a Wabanaki canoe backrest; a fur-trading receipt; a granite carving of an eagle; a huge amethyst mineral specimen from Sweden, Maine; and a shoe and other items from the Defence, a Revolutionary War privateer that sunk in Penobscot Bay.
We are working on more ideas to test out in April, so stay tuned – we need your feedback to create better exhibits.