Penobscot Marine Museum
Maine's oldest maritime museum consistently captivates visitors.
But Fuller emphasizes that this exhibit looks beyond the lobster itself and explores how these creatures of the deep have inspired a whole new brand of kitsch. A folk art show will display restaurant signs, refrigerator decorations, and even trucking logos that have capitalized on the prevailing lobster mania, while a color photo exhibit by frequent Down East contributor Nance Trueworthy will look at the faces of people lobstering today. Another exhibit will focus on the increasingly popular lobsterboat races held along the coast each summer.
"We're really trying to look at the industry the way it is today, how it's gotten here since the 1950s," Fuller explains. "The lobstering exhibit at Maine Maritime Museum in Bath pretty much stops at about 1950, so we're trying to go from there. In the best of all possible worlds we'd put the two exhibits side-by-side, but we can't really do that."
Fuller is so confident of his show, he's inviting the harshest critics of all - the lobstermen themselves. The judges who decide the winners in the juried Art of Lobstering show will be composed of lobstermen and women, and anyone carrying a valid lobstering license will receive free admission to the museum. But that discount doesn't extend into the museum's fine Route 1 gift shop, where even the toughest salt has found himself forking over a few dollars for a unique maritime-related gift.
And while the lobster exhibit should be enough to whet the appetite of every soul wanting to learn about Maine's maritime heritage, it's just one piece of this thirteen-building complex (itself a historic district) right on Route 1 in Searsport. One group of visitors may be marveling at the tremendous collection of ship paintings by English artist Thomas Buttersworth and his son, James E. Buttersworth, on display here or learning the origins of the Maine peapod dinghy while at the same time fledgling maritime buffs take a spell turning a capstan or setting a square sail in the museum's pleasant outdoor display.
Each building seems to unlock a new aspect of the nineteenth-century captains who settled on the shores of Penobscot Bay, and whose grand homes still stand in Searsport and nearby Belfast. To get a real sense of these "towns that went to sea," wander through the restored parlors and bedrooms of the Fowler-True-Ross House and barn, where ship models, seascapes, and period furniture make you think you'll bump into a sunburned sailor at any turn - and you just might.
Open Memorial Day-October, Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday 12-5 p.m. $8. 207-548-2529. www.penobscotmarinemuseum.org