AUGUSTA — Ellie Collins of Standish came to the Maine State Museum for the first time six years ago with her granddaughters, who were visiting from Florida to participate in the Malaga Island special program, “Malaga Island, Fragmented Lives.” The girls were 8 and 12 at the time.

Malaga Island is off the coast of Phippsburg, and a mixed-race group of around 40 fishermen and laborers was expelled forcibly from the island in 1912.

“One of my granddaughters was really taken with it,” Collins said.

“We have presented these programs as part of senior college programs, family reunions and even just for small families who want to do something special with their children,” said Joanna Tarow, chief educator at the museum.

The cost for a half-hour program is $6, and the cost for a hour-long program is $12. The number of participants in the program is not limited, but is a charge separate from the normal admission fees.

Such programs are hallmarks of the the Maine State Museum, which is a stone’s throw away from the State House and is one of the nation’s oldest state-funded museums, funded in 1836. The museum aims to “make Maine’s rich natural and cultural heritage meaningful and inspiring,” according to its website, with an education that “works to engage visitors of all ages to connect their unique experiences with the museum’s collections and exhibits.”

Reservations for these programs can be made by visiting the museum at mainestatemuseum.org/learn/. While there is not a deadline for reservations, Tarow recommends planning as far ahead as possible. A few days is doable, she said, but two weeks is ideal.

Janet Brannen, of Standish, looks at the “Maine + Jewish: Two Centuries” display on May 1 at the Maine State Museum in Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

Collins and her husband, Clay Collins, were visiting the museum on May 1 with the Standish Recreation Department, and they were on a self-guided tour through “At Home in Maine” where many members of the group recognized pieces from their childhood.

It is one of the popular exhibits at the museum, Tarow said, because it is so interactive. Think pounding a maul, making a call on a rotary phone or washing dishes. The retro room from the 1960s gives families a chance to pretend they’re sitting in an old living room.

Tarow said that the Maine State Museum serves as the protector of family heirlooms. She pointed to the cast iron bathtub with clawed feet in the “Made in Maine” exhibit. “We had to put word out that we were seeking one,” she said.

That’s how most of the items in the exhibit came to the museum, by private donation from homes in Maine.

Myra Stokes, left, and Mark Stokes look at old laundry equipment in the “At Home In Maine” display on May 1 at the Maine State Museum in Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

Jeanne Coffin grew up in Augusta, and she visited the Maine State Museum several times as a child. The exhibit that was most memorable included a hare that turned white when the habitat switched from summer to winter.

As an adult, Coffin returned about 35 years ago with her husband, Ron, and their children. The two, who reside in Standish, were visiting the capital with their community’s recreation department.

“I hope (the hare) is still here,” she said.

“The permanent displays are beloved,” said Tarow.

But Tarow had a secret, one that keeps generations of Mainers returning through the ages: permanent exhibits aren’t always exactly permanent.

As collections grow, the curators rotate items. For example, the American flag will be another flag for Flag Day on June 14, and the textiles and quilt exhibits are regularly rotated because the fabric can break down depending on exposures from the environment, like light and temperature.

This summer, one of the museum’s two changing exhibits is about women getting the right to vote, “Women’s Long Road – 100 Years to the Vote.”

People look around in the “Women’s Long Road – 100 Years to the Vote” display on May 1 at the Maine State Museum in Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

“It paints a picture of what it was like for a woman living in this time period here in Maine,” said Tarow.

It includes a voting booth, which is popular among youngsters. The polling question changes frequently, and the results of previous votes are posted.

Most recently, visitors were polled about whether they support changing the minimum voting age to 16. Of 1,447 votes, 59.4 percent were in favor of lowering the age.

The museum with the Bicycle Coalition of Maine will host Bike Day on Saturday, June 22, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., an active event for families. The event is appropriate for the exhibit because there was a lot of protest when women started riding bicycles — “Her ankles are showing!”

The event, which offers free admission will connect families to the rail trail that runs through Augusta and nearby towns. It’ll include special programming for young children, but anyone can participate.

Maine + Jewish: Two Centuries,” the other changing exhibit, shows the Jewish experience in the state.

“It shows how people are making Maine home,” Tarow said, explaining all Maine people immigrated to Maine, except for native peoples.

Ellie Collins, of Standish, takes a photo of a Torah cabinet that’s part of the “Maine + Jewish: Two Centuries” display on May 1 at the Maine State Museum in Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

One person who is featured in the exhibit is Caribou native Jessica Meir, an astronaut NASA recently confirmed would visit the International Space Station.

“We knew she was training to go into space when the exhibit was formed, but we didn’t know that she was headed to the International Space Station,” said Tarow.

First-time visitor Joan Graham trailed behind her companions recently at the museum, during her first visit there.  

“I’m from away, so I’m learning a lot about Maine,” said the New York native. “It’s excellent here.”

Generations who have long known — or just recently met — “Curious George” can visit the library for a double feature at the museum. The first viewing will be a recent production of “Curious George” followed by  a biography of the creators, who escaped Nazi Germany and resettled in New England.

The museum can also arrange for tours of the Blaine House and the State House, which the Standish recreation had also done.

For more information about to museum, visit mainestatemuseum.org/.

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