Martha Stewart’s hefty guestbook lies open on a table in Skylands, her Seal Harbor home. A lucky visitor might scrawl their name on a page before following Stewart to the back of the house to sit on one of the 18 white kitchen stools while Stewart and chef Pierre Schaedelin make crabmeat sandwiches. If the weather is fair, you’ll eat lunch on the terrace, the ocean glistening over the treetops of the 63-acre property.
Stewart doesn’t just own a Maine mansion. When she visits, she delights in baking blueberry pie, wearing striped lobster bibs and arranging bouquets of nothing but Maine-grown sunflowers. And she wants to share the island and the state with her many guests.
One way she has gained knowledge about Maine is through collecting maps, antique to contemporary, which now spill out of her “map room.” In an effort to allow more people than just her houseguests to view this remarkable collection, she has lent 30 pieces to the College of the Atlantic for “Charting a Story: Martha Stewart’s Map Collection,” running Friday, July 8 through Saturday, July 23, at the Ethel H. Blum Gallery at the COA in Bar Harbor.
“The pieces that we’re showing are about half of what’s been in the map room,” said Donna Gold, COA director of public relations. “[Stewart] worked with the curator Rebecca [Woods] on choosing the pieces.”
Skylands was built by Edsel Ford, son of Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company, in 1925 as a summer retreat for his family. Stewart moved into the 35,000 square-foot pink granite mansion in 1998 to become its third owner.
Like any person buying a Maine summer home, Stewart had to learn to navigate the roads to the sandiest beach and nearest botanical garden. But she also wanted to trace the routes of Maine’s past, an interest in history that also is evident in her choice to study history and architectural history in college.
To begin her collection, she turned to Raymond Strout, collector and owner of Bar Harbor’s Ahlblad’s Frame Shop.
“We either sold and-or framed and-or found most of the maps in the collection,” said Strout. “I have well over 10,000 pieces of island history, and I’ve just been fascinated with maps. I think she heard this.”
Woods, the Ethel H. Blum Gallery summer director, first thought of creating an exhibit of the collection after reading an article about Stewart’s map room in the June 2007 edition of Martha Stewart Living.
In the article, Stewart wrote: “Once I found Skylands, the former home of car designer and tycoon Edsel Ford, I began to immerse myself in the history of the region, reading the many books on the area — nonfiction and fiction — that I discovered at island booksellers, and studying many maps on display in antiques shops and hiking shops. I learned a tremendous amount and became fascinated with the many beautiful maps I discovered. “
When Stewart wrote the article, she had 59 maps and was still searching for more. On Saturday morning breakfast visits, Strout would fill her in on auctions and island news.
“More often than not, he’d show me something interesting, and then promptly tell me the item is not for sale,” Stewart wrote. “But he is always on the lookout. What is so unusual about Raymond is his impeccable memory.”
The exhibit also includes topographical maps, nautical charts and a reproduction of one of the earliest known maps of Maine’s coast, when it was still New France: Samuel de Champlain’s 1606 map from 1932.
Stewart’s maps show the chronology of the island — the changing roads, introduction and destruction of the railroad, establishments of airports and advent of Acadia National Park.
She also has a replica of Osgood Carleton’s map of the District of Maine, published in James Sullivan’s book, “The History of the District of Maine.” It is was the most detailed of the region to that date and is included in the first comprehensive history of Maine.
“They are maps with historic value,” said Gold. “Most maps that are in [the exhibit] are going to be over 75 years old. It’s more about the stories the maps tell … the changes.”
Story maps in the exhibit include a 1930s tourist map that identifies historical locations around Mount Desert Island, such as the place of the 1899 ferry disaster where 20 passengers died due to a breaking gangplank.
The maps show that awareness of geography has changed over the centuries, as well as what is important to the people creating the maps. For example, Champlain’s map features the coast of Maine at a time when the shores were how European visitors accessed the area.
The exhibit includes a 1945 map of Maine airports and an 1885 map of Mount Desert Island railroads that show a rail climbing Cadillac Mountain. The pieces show how names of towns and landmarks have changed. Winter Harbor was Mosquito Harbor. And Cadillac Mountain was Green Mountain.
This year, Stewart hasn’t had the opportunity to spend much time on Mount Desert Island, but she did visit at the beginning of June, according to her blog at themarthablog.com.
On June 1, Stewart wrote about her arrival to Skylands with her new gardener Ryan McCallister, chef Pierre Schaedelin, decorating expert Kevin Sharkey, crafting guru Hannah Milman, wedding style expert Kate Berry and her husband Ian.
The crew stopped at Down East Lobster Company for lunch, and the next day, Stewart took a trip to Home Depot in Ellsworth before planting a majestic container garden on her Skylands terrace.
The Ethel H. Blum Gallery hours are 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday. For information, visit coa.edu or call the gallery at 288-5015.
This story was corrected to show Stewart’s house is 35,000 square feet.