BATH, Maine — The Portland area’s rich maritime history will be on display — from the 1775 bombardment of the HMS Canceaux, which burned then-Falmouth to the ground, to the arrival more recently of the Queen Mary 2, the world’s biggest passenger liner — beginning next month.
Maine Maritime Museum of Bath, in an effort to expand its presence in Portland since its merger with the Portland Harbor Museum, will debut a two-city exhibit called “Port of Portland: A Ship-Shaped History,” on Dec. 2.
The exhibit celebrates the maritime history of Maine’s largest city told through the ships that have transited from Portland Head around Spring Point Ledge. According to a press release, the exhibits will portray stories of vessels that have brought hope, grief, sustenance, outrage, prosperity, disappointment, amusement and livelihoods to people from the entire coast of Maine.
From the 18th century sloop Portland Packet to the 19th century steam Portland — dubbed New England’s Titanic — to the 20th century AfraMax tanker Overseas Portland, hundreds of years of maritime history will be represented.
Maine Maritime Museum absorbed the Portland Harbor Museum in June 2010 after the latter institution met tough financial times. With the merger came hundreds of artifacts owned by the Portland Harbor Museum, most of which are now in storage in Bath. The Portland Harbor Museum first existed at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland before it relocated to a space on Congress Street.
The merger was made possible by a $100,000 fundraising effort, which paid for cataloguing and database work that was necessary to organize the collection from Portland. Since the merger, Maine Maritime Museum has organized several lectures and historical programs in the Portland region, but the exhibit debuting this week marks a first for the museum.
“One of the primary aims of the merger was for people in Portland not to lose anything but to gain something,” said Mark Thompson, the Portland Harbor Museum’s former director, to the Bangor Daily News last month. “From my standpoint, Maine Maritime Museum stepped up when we needed them and essentially saved Portland Harbor Museum and its mission.”
The exhibit opens in Portland next Friday at the Lewis Gallery of the Portland Public Library and will run through Jan. 3, 2012. The Portland opening will feature a director’s remarks and a meet-the-curator event at 5 p.m. Dec. 2. Admission to the Portland exhibit is free.
In Bath, a more extensive and longer run of the exhibit begins at Maine Maritime Museum on Saturday, Dec. 17, and will remain on view through May 13, 2012.