Maine Historical Society



A Past Exhibit

A City Awakes — The Arts and Artists of Early 19th Century Portland

June 24 – December 31, 2005

Image of the Exhibit

Oil painting of Martin's Point, ca. 1850 by Charles Beckett

The years after the American Revolution were a dynamic period for Portland (then known as Falmouth). During this period the town emerged as a major commercial center. Industrial, commercial and residential districts bustled with business, and local citizens created a diverse range of organizations and institutions to support their needs and interests. "The City Awakes explores this period of Portland history – it's a period when the city bloomed and artistic and cultural traditions were established," explained co–curator John Mayer.

"Woven through this story of growth and development is the history of the arts and culture in Portland," noted co–curator William David Barry. In the 1780s, itinerant artists found their way to Portland, and sold silhouettes, portrait miniatures, and other paintings to patrons of all types. Artists and artisans established craft shops and studios, and made furniture and paintings in the latest style. Steadily, their work became part of middle and upper class homes. "These beautiful objects tell us much about the history of Portland," says Barry.

The City Awakes, an original exhibit at Maine Historical Society, featured over eighty paintings, prints, drawings and examples of decorative arts made in Portland during this period. Many pieces were from the collections of Maine Historical Society. Others were borrowed from neighboring organizations such as the Portland Museum of Art, the Maine Charitable Mechanics Association, the Maine State Museum, and private collectors. Paintings by familiar artists Charles Codman and John Brewster Jr. were displayed, along with works by lesser–known artists such as Susanna Paine and Fredric Mellen. Together with a wide variety of decorative and historical materials, these pieces presented a fascinating survey of the artistic and creative history of early Portland.

Curated by John Mayer and William David Barry.

Sponsored by the Phineas W. Sprague Memorial Foundation, Maine Employers Mutual Insurance Company, and Noyes and Chapman Insurance.

Exhibition Poster.

Online Exhibition