One of Maine’s most significant maritime traditions also involves a favorite Maine pastime: eating lobster! Sitting down to enjoy the delicacy is definitely the end goal, however it’s also important to take time to understand how Maine’s signature seafood item gets from the water to the table. Before donning the bib, cracking the claws and dipping the tail into the drawn butter, consider several ways of taking the time to understand the evolution of the iconic Maine lobster.
CHECK OUT THE (ART-Y) FACTS
Maine Maritime Museum Lobster Exhibit
There are a number of museums in Maine that have exhibits, collections and activities dedicated specifically to the Maine lobster. Visit the recently opened Lobstering & the Maine Coast at the Maine Maritime Museum, the largest permanent exhibit that tells the authentic story of Maine’s most iconic fishery. When you’re on Islesford, head to Boats and Buoys, Lobstering on Little Cranberry Island at the Islesford Historical Museum and check out this community-curated exhibit that features imagery and hands-on activities to celebrate the men and women who have fished the waters around Little Cranberry Island for generations. And if you’re island hopping, you can go over to the Swan’s Island Lobster & Marine Museum to experience how, through extensive preservation work, brothers Theodore and Galen Turner allow visitors access to antique equipment, old time fishing techniques, photographs, navigational tools in order to learn the story of commercial fishing in Swan’s Island, Maine.
Photo Courtesy of Maine State Aquarium
Learn how the humble lobster began as bait and even prison food before it eventually made its way to a highly sought-out Maine delicacy. The Downeast Fisheries Trail site provides an in-depth and informative article on the history and science of lobstering, and how finally in the 1800s the commercial industry started to flourish and lobster was on its way to being an economically important resource and high end food. The Lobster Issue of the Maine Thing Quarterly gives readers a plethora of lobster facts, insight into a day in the life of a lobster fisherman, information on the long-standing Maine sea-to-table movement and, of course, how/where to eat our favorite crustaceans. And just when you thought you knew all there was to know about Maine lobster, the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative offers a vast collection of resources and information on the iconic Maine sea creature including where to buy and how to cook and eat a Maine lobster.
Video Courtesy of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative
BEFORE YOU EAT THE ROLL,
SEE WHERE THE LOBSTER CAME FROM
Lobstermen at work | Monhegan Island, ME (Photo Courtesy of Thierry Bonneville)
A number of lobster fisherman/woman offer boat tours leaving from Bar Harbor, Portland, and Boothbay Harbor, among other ports. Before lunch or dinner, get out and see first hand how lobstering is done and even experience hauling traps right out of the water—talk about doing something of the beaten path! And since you worked so hard for your lunch or dinner, you’ll be more than ready to sample some fresh lobster–the hardest part will be deciding where to dine or what recipe to follow. Maine has a seemingly unending selection of places to get lobster, from the “best” or “most authentic” shacks to fine dining restaurants totraditional community beach bakes. You could also, of course, make your own lobster roll…
WHAT WE DO:
ENJOY LOBSTER EVENTS ALL YEAR, EVERY YEAR
Succulent Maine lobsters! Photo Courtesy of Thierry Bonneville
Every year in Coastal Maine there are year round, annual, and unique events and activities that center around the theme of lobster. For example, every year from June to August, the Maine Lobster Boat Races not only showcase participants’ sailing and boating talents, but spectators also really get into the spirit too as they cheer on their favorite boat. The Bicycle Coalition of Maine’s Lobster Bicycle Ride has been circling the state since 2002—the routes vary from 15 to 100 miles and follow winding, country lanes and breathtaking rockbound coast; Bicycling Magazine recently recognized the century route as one of the TOP TEN in the country. Head to Rockland the very end of July to the first weekend in August—like thousands of attendees have since 1947—for the Maine Lobster Festival, a nationally and internationally recognized event and the ultimate festival for lobster aficionados!
Wiscasset was a prosperous seaport in the late 18th century, filled with sailing ships and international commerce that supported a sophisticated social scene. Wiscasset ships brought cargos of lumber, fish and fur to Europe returning with manufactured goods and accoutrements for the fine mansions in town. The smell of tar and the sounds of the docks filled the air. Everyone made their living from shipping and the businesses that supported it, until it all abruptly stopped with Jefferson’s Embargo of 1807.
Trade revived after the War of 1812 ended, but the world of international trade had moved on. In the 1890s, Wiscasset was rejuvenated by an influx of wealthy families looking for a summer home in a quaint New England village. They were looking for a place of cool and quiet charm on the water, where cars, telephones and other modern distractions were slow to take root. These families bought and preserved the large historic homes we see today.
Photo of Castle Tucker Courtesy of Historic New England
One of the best perspectives of Maine is from the water—this vantage point offers visitors views of coves, islands and harbors, all while taking in Maine’s timeless beauty and getting a sense of its seagoing history. From the on-the-water perspective, you’ll see many of Maine’s charming ports, observe animals such as seals, porpoises, and osprey, learn about the history of the region, and have unique access to seaport villages.
In late spring, summer and early fall, there are a number companies offering many ways to enjoy a bay or harbor cruise with departure options up and down the coast, from Boothbay to Bar Harbor, Camden to Castine. There are also a variety of vessels to choose from, including windjammers to lobster boats to a 1934 motor yacht similar to Hemingway’s beloved “Pilar”.
“The Coast & the Sea: Marine and Maritime Art in America,” currently on exhibit at the Portland Museum of Art, is a must-see for history buffs, sea aficionados, art lovers or those who are just curious to learn more about how Maine maritime history helped shape the growth of the United States.
A relatively young country, the narrative of the United States still continues to be written and its future re-imagined with each new generation. Since its founding, the “story” of the United States has largely centered around ideas of optimism, hard work, and promise, and the notion that this ideology came from an era when the country was inextricably tied to the sea is no coincidence. Throughout history, the sea has represented humanity’s spirit of hope and possibility, with the simultaneous potential for danger and ruin. In the context of a hard fought for and newly established nation, the sea represented both of these realities while framing a collective vision for the people of the United States of America. Those who live on the coast of Maine understand that proximity to the ocean and waterfronts can have quite an impact on one’s identity and on our perceptions and understanding of the world.
In this first installment of “Finding Maine Maritime Art”, we invite you to explore three southern coastal Maine towns worth visiting, each with major historical and commercial connections with the sea, and today are home to galleries featuring artwork reflective of those connections.
It is well known that Maine has an abundance of art, and many artists have been inspired by the natural beauty and picturesque surroundings of the state, using it as a backdrop for their work. Because of the 3,500 miles of coastline and the significant historical and traditional ties to the sea, it is not surprising that there are maritime themes within much of the artwork that has come out of Maine.
Traveling through the coastal towns of Maine it is easy to become enchanted by the views crafted by years of weathering, carved by the salty sea. The unique people who inhabit these communities capture their histories in a timeless experience—one they will readily share with you.
Lise Becu with her sculpture, “Spirit of the Marsh”