2022 Curator Message

To the next curator,
I served as the Kawanhee History Museum Curator for the 2022 season, which included 7 weeks of camp and an additional week for the twice-postponed 100th anniversary reunion. During this time, I witnessed how special Camp Kawanhee, and the people who are drawn to this beautiful place, are. There is something truly amazing about the environment that makes this position unlike any other.

I stumbled across the position less than a month before camp started and after a few interviews and ironing out some details, I made the somewhat impulsive decision to quit my desk job in order to dive headfirst into helping prepare for the much anticipated centennial reunion. I hold a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science, with a specialization in archival science, and am passionate about the preservation and digitization of historical materials, but have spent the last few years working outside my field of study in order to keep the bills paid after the COVID pandemic substantially altered the landscape of library and museum work. The opportunity to make a lasting contribution to a community who so clearly values their history and traditions was one I was reluctant to let slip away, and spending the summer on a secluded mountain lake sounded significantly better than the work I had been doing.

I found the best way to settle into camp life was to immerse myself in it as much as I could, and I cannot recommend this approach enough. I arrived just two days before the campers, so I did not get to experience pre-camp the way most staff would. In order to offset this, I was sure to attend any gatherings happening in the early weeks of camp. Everyone was more than welcoming to me despite less than timely arrival; I never felt out of place. I tagged along on a handful of excursions, including a gold panning trip to Coos Canyon, with a handheld video camera in tow to capture some of those little moments that make camp so magical. I also assisted with running campers to the airport and covering lodges during rest hour, and generally tried to make myself available to assist where I was needed while still maintaining a consistent presence in the museum. Other curators have said things of a similar spirit, but it seems
worthwhile to echo them: you do not have to take on extra jobs or commitments, but engaging
directly with counselors and campers is really what makes the experience so wonderful.

My living space was in one of the cabins, called the barracks, where non-lodge staff stay during the season. I really enjoyed staying in the barracks, my cabin had four rooms but I shared the cabin with only one other person, which allowed us to turn one of the extra rooms into a living room space to read or hang out. I appreciated the simplicity of life in a lakeside cabin, but it’s an environment that might not be ideal for everyone. The cabins are fairly barebones, so it’s important to be prepared for temperature fluctuations, as there’s not much besides the cabin walls between you and outside. Extra blankets, or a thermal sleeping bag, and warm clothes that can be layered will be deeply appreciated on those colder nights. It’s also
helpful to be at peace with the spiders and other bugs and critters you might share your
temporary home with, since we really are guests in their environment. I found I did not spend
much time in the cabin outside of sleeping and doing yoga, there was enough work in the
museum and around camp to keep me occupied nearly all day every day.

When I wasn’t working, I was trying to explore the area as much as I could, as there are so many beautiful places to hike in western Maine. The tripping staff were a great resource when I had questions about certain trails or was looking for suggestions, I highly recommend getting in touch with them if you enjoy hiking. It’s near impossible to be so surrounded by nature and not want to get out there, and I encourage finding any reason to be outside during your stay. If not by hiking, then by kayaking, archery, swimming, or even reading beside the lake while the sun sets. Keeping my free-time occupied with activities was what really left me feeling like I made the most of my camp experience; there is something to be said for a packed schedule when it’s full of things you enjoy doing.

When I was working, my focus for the 2022 season was preparing materials for handling during the reunion. With the help of other history-minded people at Kawanhee, including Tom Pears, Mike Altimaier, and Steve Yale, I narrowed the focus even further and concentrated my efforts on materials that would be of the highest interest to alumni: the catalogs and Wigwams (the camp news-letter). I conducted an in-depth inventory of both the catalogs and Wigwams in order to request help from the alumni incompleting the physical collection in the museum; I am happy to provide this information upon request. I also noted any damages seen on these materials, and made simple repairs to the catalogs to ready them for increased use, including reattaching covers and loose pages, and fixing tears. I reorganized the catalogs into magazine holders on the shelves where they were being stored in order to increase accessibility and reduce opportunities for materials to get mixed up, lost or damaged. Each year has two copies on the shelves, if at least two copies were present, and all extra copies were placed into the storage space below the Moose Outpost exhibit. I sleeved all catalogs from before 1959 as these seemed to be the least stable due to the material used to make their covers. I also reorganized the Wigwams into a dedicated filing cabinet with clearly labeled offset tab folders to make browsing them as easy as possible. I ordered archival-grade supplies for all of this work to ensure longevity. These supplies included
archival polyester L-sleeves, filmoplast paper repair tape, and a dry cleaning eraser, among some other things. The remainder of these materials can be found in the museum beside the work space. I recommend future curators prioritize using high-quality materials for storage and repairs, as cutting corners in these areas can drastically reduce the life of an object.

In terms of future projects, there really is an endless amount of work future curators could do, and I found this list of possible projects left by the 2017 Curator, Eliza, to still be relevant. Some work I would have liked to do, but which unfortunately was placed on the back burner in order to prioritize reunion-related work is as follows:
● Update all text-based materials that are online to PDFs that allow for key-word searchability. Continue the digitization process with all compatible files formatted as such.
● Continue digitizing materials, such as photos, and organize them topically to eventually be uploaded to the website in the form of digital exhibits.
● Contribute to the self-guided camp tour idea of outlining the history of each camp building so that informational signs or plaques could be added at each location.
● Work on organizing and labeling the physical displays in the museum to make them engaging and accessible.
● Find more ways to connect current campers with Kawanhee’s history. It is clear the campers are interested, beyond answering the trivia question of the day; identifying more ways for the museum and curator to be a more regular part of the camp’s day-to-day could be rewarding.

There are so many more directions the work in the museum could take, and it really is up to the personal tastes of the curator to mold the experience to be whatever would suit their interests most.

Overall, I had a truly wonderful experience at Camp Kawanhee. Engaging work and fun, exciting ways to spend my time off made for an extremely enjoyable summer. And while the work is fairly self-directed, just know that, regardless of the approach you choose, you will contribute to the integrity of the history being kept in the museum, and that won’t go unnoticed. There is a wonderful community of people who find themselves pulled back to the camp, be it for work, their children, or reunions, and they absolutely appreciate any work being done to preserve the camp’s history. I was lucky to be present for a reunion so I could see this with my own eyes, but even when former campers aren’t reminiscing in front of you, you can rest assured that the opportunities where they can reminisce are cherished. Let that knowledge
motivate your work, and anything you do in the museum will be a worthwhile endeavor.