July 15, 2017
Museum L-A Receives Leadership Gift
Excitement is in the air at Museum L-A these days as they look forward to a very active future. Our ancestors claimed that working in the mills, shoe shops and brickyards was “hard work”, but, they carried on with pride. Despite the many challenges faced in the economic downturn, Museum L-A’s board, staff, volunteers and its Executive Director, Rachel Desgrosseilliers, continue to persevere. Where many would have given up, the Museum strengthened and moved forward.
In 2010, Museum L-A purchased the original 1850 Camden Yarns Mill property — one of Lewiston’s first cotton mills. Until the Camden Yarns property is renovated the Museum is housed in temporary space. “Being in a temporary space, our hands are tied from moving forward in developing innovative programs and new income streams which would lead us to becoming sustainable. Time is of the essence for us!” stated Rachel Desgrosseilliers, Executive Director.
With its sights on relocating to a structurally sound and environmentally controlled building, Museum L-A has already invested over $1.3 million towards the acquirement, environmental cleanup, demolition and stabilization of the structure and site. The site is owned free and clear and despite financial challenges that arose which delayed progress on the site and museum operations, the Museum is debt free. The Museum ‘weathered the storm’— surviving a major economic downfall, loss of major grants and unavoidable staff cuts. Since opening to the public, Museum L-A has spent the greatest part of its $5.35 million in operating expenses in the local economy, thereby having a great economic impact for the area.
Every Cloud Has A Silver Lining
“The challenge of being pressed out of temporary space as well as the opportunity given to us by an anonymous donor who, believing in the museum, gave a leadership gift towards the new building provided the impetus needed for us to once again become Bold, Audacious and Daring,” said Desgrosseilliers.
Leadership and operation gifts such as these help Museum L-A by inspiring the organization to resume its steps in the renovating of the Camden Yarns Mill building into a state of the art museum. “Museum L-A’s Board of Directors could not be more pleased and excited about the future. New and significant financial support will allow the Museum to increase its professional staff, expand its programming and continue the progress toward developing a new Museum building.” said Board Chair, John Cleveland.
Confronted by lingering threats to its current collections, which are stored in unprotected and borrowed spaces where environmental factors such as light, temperature, humidity, and rodents speed up deterioration of artifacts, museum staff and volunteers continue to work tirelessly saving what artifacts they can to protect pieces of Lewiston-Auburn and Maine’s past from an unnecessary demise.
Museum L-A is in support of current progressive business development happening in the Bates Mill and shares its excitement as large barren neighboring spaces re-energize with new business fronts. However, as businesses move in, museum operations and storage spaces shrink, calling for the museum’s staff and volunteers to react quickly to changes in programs, services and preservation efforts.
The Museum is presently in need of between 1,500 and 2,500 sq. ft. of storage space in order to save artifacts that now need to be moved. Suggestions for available space welcomed. Operating from temporary space, the Museum is both grateful and nervous. Indebted for the use of donated space to run its operations, exhibitions, and storage, the Museum is finding itself more and more in a pinch.
A sustainability task force was established in 2015 which created three year individual and business sustainability pledges to strengthen the Museum’s ability to survive the economic downfall. Despite additional constraints, it is with the help of these pledges and dedication of board members, donors, staff and volunteers that the Museum was able to survive.
Stories of Museum staff working to save our heritage are legendary. The Executive Director arrived to work one morning when her attention was caught by a red object in a dump truck near a loading dock. The daughter of millworkers, her intuition kicked in as she climbed up into the dump truck. She discovered over 600 original bedspread artwork designs ready to be hauled to the landfill which she pulled to safety. She was then told about silkscreens in the basement of a mill. Arriving, she found the patterns being destroyed and the frames being sold for scrap. Today both of these collections are in position of becoming national treasures.
Rising as a catalyst for the community, Museum L-A has hosted programs and events such as “Kids as Curators”, the Lewiston-Auburn Mini Maker Faire, Worker Reunions and Oral History projects as well as many major special events like the “Echoes in Time” music celebration and the Maine Innovation Expo. In the past couple of years, there has been a growing interest amongst college interns from all over New England. Several interns have changed their career paths because of their experiences with the Museum.
The Museum, in search of new income streams, has collaborated with Bates College to license millworkers’ silkscreen designs for the interior decor of two new residence halls. In favor of economic growth, Museum L-A supported OriginUSA in the manufacturing company’s move back from Pakistan to Maine; a collaboration that then led the Museum to license images for printing as a one-time, limited edition use on OriginUSA’s Made in Maine kimonos being sold all over the world— carrying with each piece, the story of L-A.
WorkArt, the Museum’s first copyrighted line of prints are ready for production of its second batch of bedspread designs for print wall decor. The museum has recently licensed the reproduction of millworkers’ art to textile fabrics for interior design. These prints and textile reproductions will be sold in its Gift Shop, alongside Maine Heritage Weaver bedspreads, Museum L-A canvas bags made by L.L.Bean, local artwork and more.
“The story being told is much larger than just Lewiston-Auburn.” said Desgrosseilliers. As a beginning museum, Museum L-A is finding that what happened here, happened throughout the state and elsewhere. It is evolving by going beyond its original borders of textiles, shoes and brick to incorporate work in general. A variety of stories needing to be told continue to progress to include water power, the canal system, immigration, innovation, the river and so much more.
Museum L-A connects generations, fosters creativity and inventive thinking, and strengthens the Lewiston-Auburn Community. Rachel Desgrosseilliers shares that “Museum L-A reveals and reminds us of who we were as a people, both amazing and innovative but, even more important, that we are still amazing and innovative today.” What happened in these mills and industries isn’t intended to stay within their respective walls, it is meant to be heard and shared. Connecting generations of workers with its new generations, Museum L-A will continue to learn from challenges faced and endure the test of time. The Museum will continue to serve as a catalyst of knowledge, curiosity, and growth for communities across Maine and America.