Behind the Photograph: “A Good Maine Dinner”

Contributed by Emma Lavoie

Warren K. Moorehead and crew in camp, Penobscot River, Maine, 1912. Photograph by Charles A. Perkins. Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology, Photograph Collection

Ever wonder what lies behind a photograph? Beyond the simple description scrawled on the back of each image? The Peabody collection contains more than 600,000 artifacts, photographs, and documents. The Peabody’s photograph collection, specifically, is extensive and contains many interesting, yet untold stories. To bring these stories and photographs to light, we would like to share them with YOU, fellow readers, in our blog series, Behind the Photograph. You can find these stories using our BehindThePhoto tag on our blog.

The year is 1912, the site is an expedition campsite located along the Penobscot River in Maine. On the right a crew member sits on the ground with his back to the camera, legs stretched out in front of him, ankles crossed, balancing his dinner on his lap. Near the tent we see three individuals close together. One sitting through the smoky haze of the campfire, another standing with his plate in his hands – last to get his meal or maybe in line for seconds? An apron on the third individual identifies the camp cook. To the left two individuals sit on tree stumps with dinner plates on their laps, enjoying “a good Maine dinner,” as the title of this photograph describes. The individual in black, farthest to the left, is none other than Warren K. Moorehead, the Peabody’s first curator and Peabody director from 1924 to 1938.

Warren K. Moorehead and Maine Expeditions

During this decade, Maine was a popular destination for archaeological field projects sponsored by the Peabody (known then as the Archaeology Department at Phillips Academy Andover.) Warren K. Moorehead’s first expedition to Maine was organized in 1912. The camping image above was taken along the Penobscot River during this expedition. This venture was so successful that Moorehead sent both survey and excavation crews to Maine each summer for the next three years. During this period, crews surveyed a large portion of Maine’s rivers and excavated dozens of sites. Maine remained the primary destination for the Peabody’s field projects for the remainder of this decade. Although Moorehead’s archaeological interests were focused elsewhere after 1920, he continued to send crews to Maine as late as 1926.

Glass Plate Negative

Much of the Peabody photographic collection is fragile. The Maine expeditions took place at a time when photography, as well as archaeology, was undergoing radical change. With the introduction of smaller and less expensive film cameras, the large and cumbersome view cameras with glass plate negatives were quickly replaced. This transition is reflected in the Moorehead photographic collection.

This image is one of 130 glass plate negatives in the Moorehead photographic collection at the Peabody. Most of these glass plate negatives (including this image) are 5 x 7” in size and appear to have been taken with a Rochester Optical Company, New Model (1890) view camera.  There are a few larger negatives in the Peabody’s photographic collection that are about 6 x 8” in size that were taken with an Improved Model Seneca view camera (1906). The Seneca view camera is still located at the Peabody to this day!

1906 Improved Model Seneca view camera at the Peabody

For further reading about Warren K. Moorehead and his archaeological excavations in Maine check out Warren K. Moorehead’s text, The Archaeology of Maine.

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