Exhibits

New Exhibit on Maine Gunsmiths in the 1800s Now Open

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"Inventors and Sportsmen: Maine Gunsmiths in the 1800s" is now open at the museum. The exhibit celebrates generations of Maine gunsmiths and illustrates the inventiveness, artistry, and craftsmanship that they brought to the early gun-making industry, as well as to the sports of hunting and fishing.

"Inventors and Sportsmen: Maine Gunsmiths in the 1800s" features over 75 artifacts, including guns made by 22 Maine makers.

"In Maine, people are comfortable with guns, but many perhaps don't realize that for centuries, firearms have not just been tools for recreation, provisioning and safety, but also sources of complex craftsmanship, beauty, and ingenuity," comments Maine State Museum Director Bernard Fishman. "At the museum's new exhibit, visitors will see an aspect of Maine's culture that they may not have considered before, but which is sure to excite pride and inspiration."

The 1800s represent a time of transition and innovation in the craft of gunsmithing, as it evolved from craft toward industry, and from handwork to mechanization and mass-production. Maine was at the forefront of this dramatic change through the work of John Hall, a Portland cooper turned gunsmith, whose work is featured prominently in the museum's exhibition. In 1811, Hall set off a revolution with his invention of a breech-loading mechanism and system of mass-production. By the 1870s, men like the Evans brothers, whose firearms are also shown in the exhibit, had adopted Hall's mass-production system and were making over 50 large-capacity rifles every day in their Mechanic Falls plant.

With their improvements in the efficiency of manufacture, Maine's gunsmiths changed the way America worked. Employing a remarkable number of skills and innovations, Maine's numerous gunsmiths also helped create and sustain a culture of hunting and outdoor sports in Maine that continues to shape the state today.

"Inventors and Sportsmen: Maine Gunsmiths in the 1800s" will be on view through April 1, 2017. While visiting the museum, don't forget to check the Museum Store to purchase Dwight B. Demeritt Jr.'s book, Maine Made Guns and their Makers, the groundbreaking work on the subject.

Listen to a recent interview by Nora Flaherty with exhibition curator Laurie LaBar on MPBN's Maine Things Considered Museum Exhibit Explores Maine's Gun History