April 08, 2020

Rural Maine sixth-graders to study Abbott

SeDoMoCha Middle School pupils from Sebec, Dover-Foxcroft, Monson and Charleston now know a world-class photographer once lived and worked in their rural corner of Maine.

A Maine Community Foundation grant is enabling the SeDoMoCha Middle School’s sixth-grade class and its peers at the Jonesport Middle School, Hichborn Middle School in Howland and Houlton Southside School to study the work and life of Maine photographer Berenice Abbott and get hands-on instruction in photography.

University of Maine Museum of Art Director Wally Mason saw the museum’s current show, “North & South: Berenice Abbott’s U.S. Route 1,” as a vehicle for sparking Maine schoolchildren’s interest in photography as an art form and tool for recording life in their own communities.

Mason says he deliberately involved Maine schools that are more isolated geographically and lack financial resources for extra enrichment activities such as a photography workshop and a field trip to a museum.

“In a sense, we are treating them like prospective students,” he said this week.

Called “On the Road Again,” the UM museum’s outreach program will begin with all four sixth-grade classes traveling to Orono to see the Berenice Abbott exhibit firsthand.

The program will enable Edmund Yankov, the museum’s education specialist, to travel to the schools where he will give the sixth-graders some hands-on lessons in photography and documenting happenings at school and in their communities.

Before moving to Maine last year, Yankov worked at the Witkin Gallery in New York that represented Abbott and many other famous photographers like Andre Kertesz, Margaret Bourke-White and Manuel Alvarez Bravo. He is a curator of fine photography.

As part of the grant, the sixth-grade teachers are being supplied with educational material to weave into different subjects. For instance, art educators will learn how to construct and use pinhole cameras. Science teachers will compare the functions of a camera and the human eye.

At SeDoMoCha Middle School, which has a special interest in Abbott since the great photographer lived in the area for 25 years, art teacher Donna Bozin plans to bring in speakers who knew Abbott during her years in Monson and Blanchard Township.

“Using local role models, Bozin also looks forward to showing her students how they can remain close to home through self-employment in the arts, medicine and other fields,” Mason said. “Such opportunities are critical to reducing the `brain drain’ that plagues Maine’s rural communities, often robbing them of their most promising talent.”

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