Friday, July 15, 2011

Book Review: ‘Maine’s Museums’

By Chip Schrader
Book Review Editor
“Maine Museums: Art Oddities & Artifacts” by Maine author Janet Mendelsohn is a compilation of entries about the many museums that Maine has to offer. For the reader’s convenience, each chapter is divided into the 7 regions of the state: Southern Maine, Casco Bay and Portland, Midcoast, Down East, the Western Mountain and Lakes Region, Kennebec Valley and Northern Maine.
Attractions within York county include the Automotive Museum of Wells, the Trolley Museum in Kennebunk, and the Naval Museum in Kittery, to name just a few. Mendelsohn begins each entry by covering the address, hours of operation, and contact information followed by a single paragraph summary of what visitors will find at each of these sites.
For the impatient searcher, this paragraph sufficiently pulls out the vital data without committing the reader to a full description. The fuller descriptions follow the heading “Why Go,” and is intended for those who prefer a good story or some background information, including interviews with the curators of each of these museums, who are typically experts within their field, and specific pieces to look for within the exhibits.
The “Why Go” segment also includes an historical backdrop of the collection. One of the more intriguing entries describes the controversial psychological theories and popular culture influence of Wilhelm Reich, M.D., in relation to his former laboratory “Ogonon” in Rangeley. This “mountainside retreat” was partially designed by the Austrian physician, and has been converted to become the Wilhelm Reich Museum.
A most peculiar museum features umbrella covers in Peaks Island. While even an umbrella museum seems far-fetched, a museum for umbrella covers seems to push beyond what we would normally find interesting.
The most fascinating entry for Southern Maine is the International Cryptozoology Museum located in Portland. The exhibits include information about the Loch Ness Monster, Yeti, and the numerous unidentified species that have been sighted throughout Maine. The curator and Cryptozoological expert, Loren Coleman, states that many of these sightings are errors and hoaxes, but there are still many instances that are worthy of scientific evaluation.
The handiest aspect of this guide lies in the fact that it is so specialized. Within any generic travel guide, museums are often buried between oceans of information, and the casual reader will likely glaze over most of its contents. Being so specific in topic, each entry gets sufficient space to shine. There are also tables, graphs and pictures to pull highlighted content from the page to the reader’s attention.
Janet Mendelsohn’s approach to this guide transcends the mere goal of attracting visitors to a hope of raising awareness to many resources that are often hidden from the allure of beachfronts and big marquis attractions. From the introduction on, her purpose is to save museums from a dwindling economy and increasingly apathetic budgeting. Paperback: 240 pages. Publisher: Countryman Press (June 6, 2011).
Photo caption: Maine Museums: Art Oddities & Artifacts by Janet Mendelsohn book cover (Courtesy photo)