HOULTON, Maine — Machines now do much of the work harvesting potatoes in Aroostook County, and youthful hand pickers are largely a thing of the past. Potato baskets and barrels are more commonly seen as decorative rather than functional, and children’s cold mornings spent waiting for the bus to take them to the fields is a thing of the past.
But a Houlton art gallery has managed to hold on to some of that past.
The Blue Moon Gallery recently opened its newest exhibition, “Art of the Harvest,” inside Visions, its Main Street store. The display features everything potato — from baskets and barrels to poems, pictures and potato queens.
“It brings me back to a simpler time,” Lynn Bryant, a Massachusetts resident who spent her teenage years in Houlton, said Friday. Bryant, who was in town visiting family and leaf peeping, happened onto the exhibit earlier in the week and brought her grandchildren to see it.
“When it gets to be fall and it feels chilly in the mornings, I always think, ‘At least I am not out in the potato field right now,’” she said.
Bryant said her grandchildren, ages 10 and 12, never really believed her when she told of her days working the harvest, having a section of potatoes to pick and carrying baskets of the crop to dump into the big barrel at the end of the row.
So she took them to the exhibit, which features several large photographs and portraits of pickers in the fields with equipment in the background.
“It was interesting,” said her grandson 10-year-old Connor Stanton.
“I liked the clothes people wore,” he continued, referring to a mannequin in the exhibit that was dressed in overalls, a sturdy work shirt, gloves and a wide-brimmed hat to ward off the afternoon sun.
Further evidence of the harvest of the past was discussed by visitors to the exhibit, who wrote about their memories of that time on a sprawling piece of brown paper just outside the gallery.
One writer remembered taking “a nice hot soak in the tub” at the end of the day. Another wrote of earning “money for winter clothes,” while another described how he was usually “plotting how to break the digger.”
Still another recalled “buying a saddle with the money I earned.”
The walls of the exhibit are covered with potato bags, pictures and poetry. The floor contains baskets and a display of spuds next to a pair of muddy work boots. Along the tables were pictures of local residents who had been named Potato Blossom Queen during the annual Fort Fairfield Potato Blossom Festival.
On Friday, Stanton acknowledged that he finally believed his grandmother’s stories.
Hundreds of visitors already have checked out the exhibit, including a couple from Belgium.
The display will continue until Oct. 25.