Collar and cuffs
Collar and cuffs
A rare collection of Penobscot items, collected by linguist Frank Siebert (1912-1998) during his many years working with Penobscot Indians, is set to be sold at auction by Skinner Auctioneers and Appraisers on Saturday, September 24, in Boston.

In an attempt to keep the collection, valued at $260,000, safe and in Maine for future generations to see, study and learn from, the Penobscot Material Culture Collaborative has been established. The collaborative is an alliance of the Penobscot Nation Cultural & Historic Preservation Department, the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance, the Abbe Museum, the Hudson Museum at the University of Maine, and the Bangor Center for History and is endorsed by the Maine State Museum.

Siebert was a gifted but eccentric scholar who devoted many years of his life to studying and documenting the Penobscot language. Trained as a pathologist, he pursued a medical career professionally. Upon retirement, he devoted his full attention to documenting Penobscot language - a project that he had begun nearly 60 years earlier, working with anthropologist Frank Speck of the University of Pennsylvania. Siebert's work forms the basis of current language projects.

As part of his research, Siebert acquired Penobscot clothing and tools from his informants, including examples of object forms that can be found in no other institutional collection. Unlike other material culture collections at Maine museums, the Siebert collection focuses not on items made for sale to others, but on items reserved for domestic use within the community. Once common, those personal possessions and objects of everyday life are now very rare and not generally found in Maine museums.

Upon his death, Siebert's family inherited his material culture collections, which he had assembled between 1932 and 1998. Initially these objects were on loan by the family to the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. After requests from the Abbe Museum of Bar Harbor, the collection was put on long-term loan to the Abbe, where it resided until just recently, when it was sent to Skinner in preparation for the upcoming auction. While the collection was at the Abbe, Native artists and other Maine institutions borrowed portions of the collection for temporary and long-term exhibitions. The entire collection is currently in limbo - if private collectors purchase all or part of it, the general public and Native artists seeking to visit the work of their ancestors may never see these items again.

According to the Penobscot Nation Cultural and Historic Preservation Department, this is a rare and important collection of clothing, tools and other domestic items that were made and used by the people of the Penobscot Nation, and no other collection like it exists. The items are set to be auctioned off on September 24.

Anyone interested in contributing toward the collaborative's effort to secure the collection is encouraged to contact James Francis at the Penobscot Nation Cultural and Historic Preservation Department at 817-7472.