For visitors to the Davistown Museum who
don't have time to search through our "An Archaeology of Tools" or Annual
Art Exhibition catalogs, the following is a summary of some of our most
Visitors entering the main hall are asked to proceed to the left to follow the chronological order of the Museum displays.
Cases A - C contain a variety of Native American artifacts, most of which are not from the coastal Maine area. Of most significance are a rare Apache Indian water basket (ca. 1200 AD) and a selection of prehistoric pottery from a Caddoan mound in Texas (ca. 700 AD?) as well as prehistoric pottery from Peru (Moche IV?), Colima, Mexico and Monte Alban, Mexico. Cases B and C contain a selection of Native American wampum.
Case D contains the most important artifact in The Davistown Museum collection, the Robert Merchant wantage rule, the earliest signed and dated tool known to have survived the colonial era (1720). To the left of the Merchant wantage rule is a molding plane made by Maine's earliest working planemaker, Joseph Metcalf. To the right is an important early American molding plane made by I. Walton of Reading (Mass.)
Between cases C and F is a large flax breaker brought to Detroit, Maine, by the early settlers and used in the process of dressing flax to make linen clothing. In case F is a panel raising plane by the Waldoboro, Maine, planemaker Thomas Waterman. At this time, this is considered to be the earliest plane made in Maine, as Joseph Metcalf's plane may have been made in Massachusetts before he moved here. Also in case F is an important collection of ship's caulking tools including mallet, irons and a stool. Last used for work on restoring the U.S.S. Constitution (1960s), this set of tools was passed on from generation to generation and is typical of the tools used by ship's caulkers in the 19th century. Liberty and Montville were home to several families of ship's caulkers who would leave their farm and periodically work in the shipyards of Warren and Waldoboro, etc. Also in case F is a selection of the earliest cast steel tools made in the United States, including an important hatchet by Todd Howe of Medford, MA (ca. 1834), one of the earliest examples of a fine American made cast steel tool. After the re-invention of the cast steel manufacturing process in 1759 by Benjamin Huntsman in England, most high quality tools used by American craftsmen were imported from the Sheffield area of England. Case E contains a selection of typical 18th century tools. Case G contains a selection of imported English cast steel tools of the same era as the American ones in case F. Also of note in case G is the small toolbox, which descended in the Willard family of clockmakers (Benjamin died 1803, Aaron died 1844, Simon died 1848, etc.) To the right of this tiny toolbox are four imported English tools typical of those imported by American craftsmen before the development of an indigenous cast steel toolmaking manufacturing process. Also of significance in cases G, H and I are a selection of hand tools by Peter Stubs, the most important of all (Landcastershire) English toolmakers. While Stubs was still making tools for the American market, Christopher Prince Drew began manufacturing caulking tools and shingle rips in Kingston, MA (1830 f.) Drew signals the rise and florescence of American toolmakers, which are illustrated by examples of important patented planes and tools of the classic period of American machinists in case K. Of particular significance in case K are two examples of very rare Birmingham (CT) planes as well as the collection of the Corbette patternmaker's tools, which mark the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and its concomitent need for foundries and patternmakers.
Of particular importance as a component of The Davistown Museum mission of documenting Maine toolmakers is the selection of tools in display area J and its back shelf S. This is a hands-on area: visitors are invited to browse in the reference books or examine the early hewing axes made in Maine by here-to-fore undocumented toolmakers of B. Graves of Solon and Thorpe of Madison, an early cooper's hatchet and other cooper's tools, or the amazing foreplane showing the patina of generations of use by an unknown craftsman. At the end of display area J note the important Buff and Buff transit and the rare, one-of-a-kind patented brick pressing machine model, which was not in the Smithsonian at the time a fire destroyed most of these patent models. Also note on the work table between display case I and K examples of important tools by Maine toolmakers including the recently discovered specimens by Vaughn and Pardoe of Union, M.W. Monroe of West Troy and Billings of Augusta.
As visitors continue around the Museum, after you pass display area K, you enter the area where history meets art. Hung on the walls are important paintings by William Lester Stevens, Milton Avery and others as well as a selection of antiquarian and contemporary art by known as well as unknown artists. A Louise Nevelson sculpture serves as the base for Melita Westerlund's Target. The fuselage artist, as yet unidentified, made the reproduction of the penny-farthing bicycle by the front desk and other works on display in the main hall. And those are Phil Barter gas tanks, commissioned specially for The Davistown Museum and shown along with the work of other contemporary Maine artists such as Libby Mitchell, Kris Johnson and Matt Barter.
Case L pushes the envelope with respect to the interface of the historical object and the sculptural object. Museums, in fact, can be much too serious about who they are displaying and the significance of the artworks on display. Jeff Warmouth and his humorous display of canned Jeffu, shown as part of an assemblage of found artifacts, is meant to remind Museum visitors that if art is not fun and interesting, then it probably shouldn't be shown at all. The found artifacts in the lower sections of case L as well as in the lower section of display area O is a collection of ADR (accidental durable remnants) work in progress. Visit the Museum again in a few months or the next year, and you may find some of these items redeployed in new assemblages.
Davistown Museum specializes in showing the art of contemporary sculptors and painters. David McLaughlin's Used glove salespersons bicycle on the front stage is number 3 of 4 sculptures in the post apocalypse series; the other three are on display at the Davistown Museum Hulls Cove Geronimo Sculpture Gardens (see the listing of the sculpture at Hulls Cove at the end of the catalog.) Also of note: Melita Westerlund's polychromed Studies for steel sculpture and Medusa Series III, both on the stage at the front of the hall; McLaughlin's Flying Fish (area N); as well as sculpture by Sam Shaw, Abbie Read, Carol Hanson, Dan Falt, J. Wood and other Maine artists.
Please note the special exhibition of more traditional paintings and drawings by the Boston School artist Virginia Goolkasian. If Virginia Goolkasian had lived in Paris in the 20's and 30's and was George Roualts' lover, a friend of Picasso and Gertrude Stein, a frequenter of Montmarte and a Bohemian participant in the tumultuous Paris art scene, would this affect your evaluation of her artwork? Does it make a difference that she was a marginal Boston school painter, who as an Armenian was never accepted in the stuffy Boston Brahmin atmosphere of the 1930s? She lived in the same decrepit old Victorian house in the lower mill section of Dorchester all her life. If a more romantic biography was substituted for the harsh reality of her working years, how would that affect your encounter with the oeuvre of this artist?
Now that you are at the end of the tour of the main hall, don't forget to visit the other sections of the Museum, including the reading room with its collections of prints, including those by Durer, Whistler and several unknown but important Victorian lithographs. The display closet includes the Suzanne Nash Memorial, (1946 - 1999) a collection of her pottery and baskets, Ethel Skeans, Clifford and Ardis Looker as well as an important piece of pottery by the Deer Island artist Melissa Greene. Lastly, don't forget to visit the 4th floor department of photography and environmental history and see works by Chris Church, Lorna Crichton and George Daniell. Our apologies to the approximately 60 other artists on display that we did not name in this quick tour of the Museum exhibitions.