“My Sunshine of Prosperity”

Today was the perfect day for a road trip! I needed to hit up the Apple Store for a replacement charger (this is charger number five) for my Macbook. My car got a tuneup yesterday, so I took the day to go handle my computer biz and explore the Portland Museum of Art, which I hadn’t had the chance to.

By the time I navigated the city, go lost (even with a GPS), and made it there via the scenic route in some 80 degree weather, I was beyond tired, but the trip was well worth it. I had been wanting to scope out Portland, as I’ve heard it’s similar to the city that I used to live in, my beloved Richmond, Virginia. I’ve been down a couple times (to the airport, and to a club to go dancing… typical) but never had a chance to walk around and take in the city. 

Here’s someone’s cool picture near the waterfront in Portland:

I’d like to go back sometime to see things again and spend a little more time, but what I saw was amazing. As I walked in the door I was greeted by a lovely old man who joked around with me saying, “Hi there! We’ve been expecting you!” I let them know that I had mini-road tripped from Lewiston to get there and charmed my way into an admissions discount ; ) He gave me a map and some information, with a suggested quick route to get around and see everything before the museum closed. I never look at every little thing in a museum, I usually glance around and go back to the most intriguing objects so spend time studying/looking at. Here’s a little recap of what I found to be most interesting.


“Maine’s largest and oldest public art institution”

I was mad that my camera died while I was walking around, but glad that there are better pictures all over Google Images than I probably could have taken. so you’ll see some here! Since I now work in a museum, I look more critically at a museum’s atmosphere and curatorial choices (I guess that’s what you call them) when I visit  them. I won’t bore you by getting into detail about that, but I will give you a little rundown on the museum itself.

The Portland Museum of Art:

  • Features “a collection of more than 15,000 objects showcasing three centuries of art and architecture”
  • Has a “collection housed in three architecturally significant buildings ” including the “McLellan House, built in 1801 by John Kimball Sr., Federal period design, restoration completed in 2002″
  • Has the “largest collection of European art north of Boston” and a “comprehensive collection of Winslow Homer’s graphics”


“In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.” 

-Michelangelo (Italian sculptor, painter, architect & poet,)

Alright. So first, as per my information desk friend’s advice, I made my way into the Rotunda featuring white marble sculptures.  The architecture of the museum somehow invites you to want to get close to the artwork and really scope it out. Normally these kinds of sculptures are not that interesting, but these, I couldn’t help but look at.

The brochure says “Each figure has a story to tell, and together these works tell the larger story of 19th-century Neoclassical sculpture and the careers of two Maine artist.” So here’s the deal. The artists who made these sculptures are Benjamin Paul Akers and Franklin Simmons, both were born in Maine and studied in Italy. During their time, American artists would travel to Europe to study the old school classical art and come back to the states interested in the Greek and Roman style. This throwback to classical art resulted in a “new”or fresh take on the “classic”. Hence the name of the movement, “Neoclassical”


“The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most. I can better trust those who helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with me the sunshine of my prosperity.”

– Ulysses S. Grant

(preach it, Ulysses! Amen. ) Out of all of the Marble sculptures, I did have one particular favorite, probably because I have a history crush on Ulysses S. Grant (what, you don’t?)  For no other reason than that he looked like this:

I’ve seen a lot of pictures of him and there’s something about his face that’s really captivating. I’m not sure what it is. Anyway. Here’s a sculpture of him by Maine’s “first full-length portrait sculpture”, Franklin Simmons, which is located in the museum around the corner from the sculptures above.

This sculpture was intended to be a gift from the state of Maine for the U.S. Capital building but Simmons ended up creating a different version to send to D.C. as this version was not “heroic enough”
The next painting that I fell in love with was in the “Gilded Age” gallery. Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner’s 1873 novel The Gilded Age described that era as America’s “golden road to fortune.” During this time there were many wealthy people living luxuriously as the nation began worked through the struggle of developing a national identity.


“The one-drop rule is a historical colloquial term in the United States for the social classification as black of individuals with any African ancestry; meaning any person with “one drop of black blood” was considered black”


Virginia was the second state to adapt this rule as a law  in 1924 under the Racial Integrity Act. Does anyone else find it interesting that 88 years later this is still a hot topic? Even more ironic is that our President’s race/ethnicity  is often the center of this conversation. 

Click the image for a larger version to see details.
Another blogger wrote about viewing this painting at the Portland Museum, you can read it here . In her research about the piece, she found that in 1915 W.E.B. DuBois, wrote about it in the N.A.A.C.P.’s journal,The Crisis:

The people in this picture are all “colored;” that is to say the ancestors of all of them two or three generations ago numbered among them full-blooded Negroes. These “colored” folk married and brought to the world a little golden-haired child; today they pause for a moment and sit aghast when they think of this child’s future.
What is she? A Negro?
No, she is “white.”
But is she white?
The United States Census says she is a “Negro.”
What earthly difference does it make what she is, so long as she grows up a good, true, capable woman? But her chances for doing this are small!
Because 90,000,000 of her neighbors, good Christian, noble, civilized people are going to insult her, seek to ruin her and slam the door of opportunity in her face the moment they discover “The Drop Sinister.”

 Interesting. Speaking of presidents: Anyone notice Abe on the wall in the painting? Apparently according to this “one drop” rule, we’ve already had 5 presidents of color and Abraham Lincoln was one of them. According to my research (::pushes up glasses::) Word on the street is that Abe’s mother was Ethiopian. (Side note. Look at the cool Daguerreotype of a young Abe Lincoln that I found! Click the image for more information)


Next, I swung through to the historical McLellan House… literally a house inside of a museum.
Here’s the staircase that left my speechless. I definitely stood at the bottom of the stairs for like five minutes wondering if I was allowed to walk upstairs. 
Yes. I walked up these stairs and imagined myself walking down them, Cinderalla style. (embarassing.)  So here’s the rundown. Major Hugh McLellan was one of Portland’s most wealthy and powerful citizens. His family founded many buisinesse in the city which created a new class of wealthy merchants at the turn of the 19th century. He comissioned John Kimball Sir, a craftsman rather than an architect, to build his house, the McLellan House, at 116 High Street in Portland in 1800.

 In 1970, the mansion was was added to the register as a National Historic Landmark. Pretty cool huh? To be honest, I’m not sure which pieces of it are original and which are restored, but it’s obvious that the interior of the home has been impeccably preserved over the years. There were very few furnishings inside, but it was interesting to see an entire house inside of a museum. Definitely unique.
This mansion exemplafies all things Federal architecture including symmetrical alignment of windows and doorways, scale emphasizes height and lightness and semicircular or rectangular portico at entrance.



So these are a few “OG’s of the art word” whose work I got to see today! It’s always cool to see real artwork from artists whose whole life stories you seem to know. Also, reproductions of paintings never do them justice. By that I mean, the pictures very rarely look like the real thing.  
The feature show was about Degas and his friends. There were no photos allowed inside, so I can’t find any floating in the web, but here’s the cool sign… if that’s exciting at all..
and because I love seeing what the artists look(ed) like:
Degas is best known for his artworks of dancers. You can see this one the VMFA in Richmond! 
I will leave you all with a video of a Flash Mob, byfar the biggest and goofiest looking flash mob i’ve ever seen, taking place outside of the museum where I was wandering around today!
Enjoy… and try not to laugh. I bet you can’t. I’m not sure it’s suppose to be as funny as it is to me.

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