The Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine Debuts Its First Wabanaki-Focused Permanent Exhibit

The sinuous new playspace invites hands-on exploration of indigenous heritage in Maine.

Ckuwaponahkiyik Atkuhkakonol: Wabanaki Storytelling Through Art and Traditions at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine
Photo courtesy of the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine
By Sara Anne Donnelly
From our January 2024 issue

The new playspace outside the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine, in Portland, was a long time coming. Ckuwaponahkiyik Atkuhkakonol: Wabanaki Storytelling Through Art and Traditions is the 48-year-old institution’s first permanent exhibit dedicated to Maine’s indigenous people. “We’ve always told stories about this place we call Maine, but there has been a lack of Wabanaki voices,” says education and exhibits director Starr Kelly, who began developing the project soon after joining the museum staff two years ago.

A citizen of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, an Algonquin band in Quebec, Kelly drew on connections she made as curator of education at Bar Harbor’s Wabanaki-focused Abbe Museum. Penobscot sculptor Tim Shay designed the play environment, taking cues from the round, flat area adjacent to the museum’s existing playground and mapping out a series of circular sections. One of them, the storytelling circle, is framed by cedar benches into which he carved Wabanaki archetypes — the eagle, the turtle, and the “singing grandmother.” Maliseet artist Emma Hassencahl-Perley illustrated instructional placards with bright, symmetrical graphics based on Wabanaki double-curve beadwork and 19th-century tribal iconography.

Children can practice weaving on two enormous basket molds designed by Max Romero Sanipass, who comes from a family of distinguished Mi’kmaq basketmakers, and play a powwow drum in a pergola created in collaboration with Passamaquoddy musician Dwayne Tomah. “Families congregate around every part of the exhibit,” Kelly says. “It’s incredibly fulfilling to see people responding so positively.”

250 Thompson’s Point Rd., Portland. 207-828-1234.

May 2024, Down East Magazine

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