LEWISTON – Museum L-A will unveil a new exhibit, “Weaving a World: Lewiston’s Millworkers, 1920-2008,” Sunday, June 8, in its space at the Bates Mill Complex. It tells the story of the people who worked in Lewiston’s textile mills, their families and the community they formed.

Drawing on oral-history memories as well as documentary research, the exhibit traces the millworker experience from the hard times of immigration and the Great Depression through the prosperity of the 1950s to the decline of the mills.

The public is invited to attend the grand opening celebration from 2 to 5 p.m. No reservations are needed and admission is free that day.

“Once again, we come to celebrate who this generation was and is,” said Rachel Desgrosseilliers, executive director of Museum L-A. “It was their labor, skill and craftsmanship which created the area’s robust economy, culture, vibrant community and the powerful sense of place that we all enjoy today. We hope that we are somehow validating their lives.

“With this exhibit, we say: ‘Thank-you for the gift of your history which is our legacy.’ We honor and stand in sheer admiration of our mill workers.”

Museum L-A staff and volunteers along with Bates College faculty, staff and students enrolled in five different courses collaborated for three years on the development of this exhibit through oral-history gathering, archival research, and exhibit planning. David Scobey, director of Bates’ Harward Center for Community Partnerships, wrote the text for the exhibit. Nationally known graphic designer Hannah Smotrich of Michigan joined the project last year.

“We are pleased with our partnership with Bates College,” Desgrosseillers said. “The projects we have worked on together are bringing generations together and helping us teach history as a journey of discovery.”

“Weaving a World” tells its story in text and photographs on panels that can be moved to other destinations after its three-month stay at Museum L-A. An introductory panel and timeline are followed by six major panels:

Panel 1: “Mills, Falls and Migrants” – Water, money and people make a mill town: the growth of Lewiston, the workings of the textile mills and the coming of immigrant workers from Canada and elsewhere.

Panel 2: “Hard Times and Hard Work” – The formative experience of the Great Depression: economic struggles and physical burdens at work, humanizing hard times through the family economy, the New Deal and the labor movement and the legacy of the work ethic and craft ethic.

Panel 3: “La Survivance: Inside an Ethnic World” – The family and community life of immigrant workers in hard times: family ties, immigrant neighborhoods like Little Canada, and the complex weave of ethnic institutions, loyalties and conflicts.

Panel 4: “Franco-American” – With hard times giving way to wartime and postwar prosperity, the “Americanization” of the millworkers’ world: military service and the war effort, business growth and upward mobility in the textile mills, and the emergence of a new hyphenate American identity.

Panel 5: “Bedspreads and Better Times” – Family life, community life and work life in the postwar boom: stable work, better pay, new homes and middle-class consumerism, labor relations and sociability inside the mills.


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