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Collections at the Abbe: an Overview

Abbe : Research : Collections
Whale Bone Deer Clown Sweetgrass Basket Strawberry Basket Uncle Sam Wedding Dress

The Abbe Museum's collections comprise more than 50,000 objects representing 10,000 years of Native American culture and history in Maine, including the present.



Birchbark Chair

Chair with porcupine quill decorated
birchbark panels, Mi'kmaq, late 19th century.


The archaeological collections consist primarily of stone tools such as projectile points, knives, axes and fishing weights; bone objects such as harpoons, fish hooks, combs and needles; and ceramics including the earliest known pottery styles in Maine. A flute made from the bone of a swan is estimated to be 2,000 years old. Many of these objects were acquired from the Abbe's archaeological excavations.


From more recent times, the collections include 17th-century glass trade beads and copper tools. Eighteenth-century objects include quillwork, birchbark, jewelry and an etched powder horn attributed to Chief Orono of the Penobscot Nation. The 19th century is well represented by a variety of objects that demonstrate the flowering of traditional arts and crafts for sale. Among these are finely woven ash and sweetgrass baskets, delicate Micmac quill boxes, etched birchbark containers and colorful, highly decorative beaded items.


The contemporary collection documents the continuing Native American craft tradition in Maine with objects including woodcarvings and birchbark containers. Basketry is especially well represented, including baskets woven by Philomene Nelson and Rene Attean of the Penobscot Nation; by Passamaquoddy tribal members Mary Gabriel, Theresa Neptune Gardner, Clara Keezer and Molly Neptune Parker; and by Micmac tribal members Donald and Mary Sanipass. Other contemporary works
include birch root clubs carved by Penobscot Stanley Neptune and his son Joseph. The supporting collection includes photographs, maps, archival documents and a library of texts and journals on related subjects.


Within the Abbe's collections are several major groups of Native American baskets donated by individual collectors: a 1931 gift by Mary Cabot Wheelwright, founder of the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe, NM.; a 1995 gift by Watie Akins, a Penobscot engineer; a 1998 gift by Anne Molloy Howells, author of books for young people; and the Peter Smith Terry Collection donated by Unity College in 2002. As a result of these and other gifts, the Abbe has the largest, best-documented collection of Maine Indian baskets in the Northeast.


Learn more about how the Abbe Museum cares for our collections.


Quick Links to Related Information

View our Curator's Featured Items

Featured Acquisitions

Diane Kopec Collection

Library and Archives

Rights and Reproductions

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