For 20 years from the 1970s to the 1990s, Bangor-area book lovers could look forward to snagging their free special-edition bookmark, created by a Maine artist, from the Bangor Public Library each year.
Luminaries including Dahlov Ipcar, Vincent Hartgen, Francis Hamabe and Carroll Thayer Berry all created original works, which were then mass-printed and distributed at the library as a call to donate to the Penobscot Valley Health Association.
Those 29 original paintings and drawings, alongside new Maine Bicentennial-themed bookmarks created by a new crop of artists, will be on display from Feb. 6 through mid-May at the Bangor Public Library, as part of a yearlong effort to offer new work from Maine artists in the library’s Stairwell and Lecture Hall galleries.
“This is the first time we’ve done a call for artists in a long time, perhaps ever,” said Candis Joyce, a reference librarian for the library who also coordinates programming for adults. “It’s kicking off a whole year of getting artists to create new work for the library.”
The library has held the 29 original paintings and drawings since the program began in the early 1970s, originally to benefit the organization that would come to be known as the Penobscot Valley Health Association. Prior to that, the organization was known as the Bangor-Brewer Tuberculosis and Health Association. It was founded in 1909 as one of the region’s first public health groups.
Founded and run almost entirely by women, the organization started Maine’s first free tuberculosis clinic and sanatorium in a building on Valley Avenue. By the 1930s, it offered free screenings and had purchased a portable chest X-ray. It also began educating people who handled food and livestock on best practices to reduce transmission of the disease.
“I suspect most people today don’t realize how much of a scourge tuberculosis was in those days,” Joyce said. “Before these sorts of public health reforms, it was essentially a death sentence.”
By the 1950s, however, the organization’s focus had shifted to a more general support of public health, and in the 1970s it changed its name to the Penobscot Valley Health Association. In the 1980s, its focus again shifted to combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Maine, and it was among the first supporters of the then-new Eastern Maine AIDS Network and Down East AIDS Network, which in 2014 both became part of the Health Equity Alliance. It also was a major funder for the opening of the Shaw House in 1991, with its original headquarters becoming the first location for the youth shelter during its early years.
It was during that era that the Penobscot Valley Health Association partnered with the Bangor Public Library to distribute the bookmarks, which were promotional items meant to encourage people to donate to the fund.
“I think people really looked forward to getting a new bookmark each year,” Joyce said, “and our longtime patrons remember getting them even to this day.”
In 1996, the association disbanded, and its funds began to be managed by the Maine Community Foundation, which continues to award grants from the fund to organizations such as the Bangor Area Recovery Network and Penobscot Community Health Care, with a special focus on combating the opioid crisis.
The original bookmark artwork has sat in the library’s art collection for the past 27 years, and it wasn’t until late 2018 that Joyce came across them and realized the library could bring the project back. As the 2020 call for artists is funded by a grant from the Maine Bicentennial Commission, the new bookmark project is to be themed to the 200th anniversary of Maine’s statehood.
The library is also sponsoring a bicentennial bookmark art project for young, school-age artists. Submissions for that project are open through May 22, and the art will go on display in the summer. In the fall, a third art show is planned, with the library asking artists to submit original works inspired by the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.
Maine artists can submit their 5-inch-by-14-inch bicentennial-themed designs to the library’s bookmark art project through Friday, Jan. 31. Up to 75 designs will be chosen for the display, and 10 designs will be chosen by a jury to be printed as bookmarks. Three of those 10 designs will be awarded first-, second- and third-place prizes. To submit a design, visit the Bangor Public Library’s website.