Each semester, the Center for the Arts and Humanities gives grants to support the development of innovative new humanities labs. These labs provide a fresh and engaging way for students to explore the humanities through experiential learning. In this article, we highlight Professor of Art Véronique Plesch (pictured right), and her Humanities Lab AR393 Museum Practicum—The L.C. Bates Museum: History and Collections. The L.C. Bates Museum (pictured below) is an early 20th-century natural history museum located in Hinckley, Maine. Professor Plesch’s lab provided an extraordinary service by creating an entire website for the museum, which you can access here. This polished and thorough website includes photographs of the museum, a timeline of its history, a video interview with Museum Director Deborah Staber, a compilation of educational programs and materials, and a virtual tour of the museum, among other things. The website was created by just 11 students over the course of a semester, with teams of students assigned to different sections of the website. The students also completed insightful research papers on the museum, which can be found on the research tab of the website. This website will raise the museum’s profile, and enable people with mobility issues to see the museum’s exhibits.
Professor Plesch’s fascination with the L.C. Bates Museum began more than twenty years ago, when she discovered this little known treasure trove of taxidermied animals, fossils, and Maine history. From the moment she first visited it, she couldn’t stop coming back. She explained that the museum operates on a very tight budget, with only one full-time employee and the rest of its work done by volunteers. In one way, this turned out to be a good thing, because it froze the museum in time. It’s a “museum of museums” – a visitor to the L.C. Bates Museum is able to see what a museum would have looked like a century ago. However, budgetary restrictions are still a serious problem for the museum, and Professor Plesch wanted to find a way to help.
So, she started a collaboration between Colby and the museum, finding two Colby art majors to curate the museum’s summer art exhibition. For the last decade, this opportunity has provided an invaluable real-world experience for students looking to enter the art world, and has brought publicity to the museum. Each summer, the Center sponsors a reception to launch the exhibition; unfortunately, due to the pandemic, this year’s opening had to be cancelled. However, rather than lose the opportunity to share this year’s art exhibition, titled Maine Waters and its Inhabitants, the two student curators—Lola Collins ’20 and Sabina Garibovic ’22, pictured below— created a virtual exhibition, which can be viewed here. The virtual exhibition is so effective that Professor Plesch hopes to make it a tradition for future years. The artists who contributed their work to this extraordinary collection include Colby alumni. Spent, a painting by Colby alumnus Michael Branca ‘96, can be seen to the right.
After years of organizing the museum’s summer show, Professor Plesch decided that she wanted to find new ways to contribute to the museum. It was then that she came up with the idea of creating a website for them. She first tested the idea of having a class create a website in the fall of 2016, when she taught another Center-funded Humanities Lab called Picasso’s Suite Vollard and its Contexts. In this lab, students created a website for a series of 100 Picasso prints, part of the Lunder collection, an incredible gift to the Colby Museum of Art. The Spring 2020 Museum Practicum lab, which created an entire website for the L.C. Bates Museum, was a natural extension of that idea. In addition, several of Professor Plesch’s students have held Center-funded internships at the L.C. Bates Museum over the years.
Professor Plesch’s humanities lab has been very beneficial to the students who participated in it, as well as to the museum and the public. In her final reflection on the course, one student wrote, “I learned lessons about myself, tips to improve my writing, how to create a website, understanding a new museum, and more.” Another praised the museum, writing, “I have experienced art museums, natural history museums, military and war museums, and more; however, I had never experienced anything like the L.C. Bates. It is definitely one of the most fascinating museums I have been to.” A third student wrote, “As someone who is hoping to pursue a career in history, more specifically in the museum field, this course has played a significant role in teaching me more about the profession.”
The Center for the Arts and Humanities is so grateful to Professor Plesch for all of her collaborative work with the L.C. Bates Museum. We strongly recommend that you check out the museum’s website, and that you visit the museum once the pandemic has subsided.
Written by Ayla Fudala, Environmental Humanities Program Coordinator