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What Is the Abbe Museum?

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  • Written By: J.E. Holloway
  • Edited By: M. C. Hughes
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2016
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The Abbe Museum is an anthropological and archaeological museum in southern Maine. Dr. Robert Abbe founded the museum in 1926 to display artifacts from the Native American cultures of Maine. The original museum stood in the grounds of what was then Lafayette National Park, now Acadia National Park, on Mount Desert Island. Today, the museum operates from two locations, one within the park itself and the other in the nearby town of Bar Harbor.

Robert Abbe, founder of the Abbe Museum, was born in 1851 in New York. He became a surgeon, specializing in reconstructive surgery; he was an early advocate of radiotherapy as a treatment for cancer. In addition to his medical studies, Abbe also developed a passion for archaeology. During his summers in the coastal town of Bar Harbor, Abbe would collect Native American artifacts, filling notebooks with sketches and descriptions of his collection. These artifacts would form the core of the Abbe Museum collection.

In 1926, Abbe contacted other collectors of Native American artifacts from Maine, persuading them to pool their collections to create a museum. The initial site of the museum was near Sieur de Monts Spring in Lafayette National Park. The museum opened in 1928, but Abbe did not live to see it, having died five months previously. The name of the museum commemorates his hard work, generosity and dedication to the study of Maine's Native American history and culture.

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Since 1928, the Abbe Museum collection has continued to expand. Its collection includes not only prehistoric artifacts but historical and modern examples of Native American crafts, particularly basketmaking and the crafts of the local Wabanaki people. Other exhibits include material on the history of the museum itself as well as contemporary Native American art. Educational and outreach activities, including work with local schools, accompany each of the museum's exhibitions.

The original Abbe Museum building sat alongside a hiking trail in what was then Lafayette National Park. The increasing size of the collections and diversity of programs meant that this small building was no longer adequate for the museum's needs by the 1990s. In 1997, the museum acquired a historic building in the center of Bar Harbor and began renovating it to create modern facilities for display, storage, teaching and archaeological research. In 2001, this new facility opened as the main building of the museum. The original museum building continues to host smaller exhibits between May and October.

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