One of the first things Connor Gaudet realized when he was selected as the new curator for the Mattapoisett Museum was the voluminous quantity of ephemera in the collection.
For decades as folks in the area cleaned out closets and attics, possibly upon the passing of a loved one, old materials held on to needed to go. Yet there also came the realization that much of these pieces not only were held onto because they might mean something to the owner but that they likely could mean something to a wider audience.
Old restaurant menus, old pictures, bits and pieces left behind from a factory, maps, you name it, someone held onto it. Later it would be passed along to the museum. Gaudet pondered how to display a small portion in a meaningful way so the public could enjoy seeing them. Thus was born the museum’s newest exhibit titled Then and Now.
Gaudet and members of the museum board helped to sift through donated materials, selecting those pieces that might convey just how much Mattapoisett has changed, or in some cases stayed the same.
Old photos were selected for their meaning to the larger community. For example, the stone bridge, Center School and the library are well known and much-loved iconic structures. Juxtaposing an old photo of these against what they look like today floods the viewer’s memory banks with then and now images.
But Gaudet took the exhibit to the next level by taking two well-known restaurants, the Nest and the Mattapoisett Diner, and creating a visual timeline that takes viewers on a journey through time. The parallel timelines, one for each restaurant, start at the beginning of the businesses’ lives and on through the years note changes in business names, along with photos of the structures and menus as they morphed through the decades. Very clever indeed.
A photo of the town band back in the day shows the all-male members dressed in jackets and long trousers, not a single smile among the musicians. The 2023 town band photo shows just how much has changed with smiling faces all. And, by the way, current band membership is slightly more than 50% female. Accompanying these items are antique wind instruments.
There’s a then-and-now display of the former Big 3 Building Products that burned to the ground decades ago and where today a coffee shop stands.
How about the “then” pic of three people in turn-of-the-century, bathing costumes standing in the water at Town Beach – again no smiles – and a today knock-off with plenty of humor and clothing of the 21st century, shorts and T-shirts. Or how about the three folks from “then” out on a bike ride down Church Street wearing cycling attire. Wait ’til you get a gander at the blouse the woman is wearing. The bicycles tires appear to be metal rims. No rubber and, you guessed it, no smiles. In the modern version of this scene, the “now” includes happy faces and one skateboard and two bikes complete with rubber tires.
“The reaction to the exhibit has been one of surprise,” Gaudet reported. He said for many, especially people from out of town, the amount of enterprise taking place in this tiny town amazed them. “It was fun for me going through everything and selecting what to use.”
For people who grew up in Mattapoisett, the Then and Now exhibit is a walk down memory lane. The items on display conjure up memories long forgotten. “Yes, a walk down memory lane. It was the perfect place to grow up,” said Carole Clifford, a townie who returned to her roots upon retirement.
Jennifer McIntire, who heads up the board of directors, said, “I’m impressed how he (Gaudet) managed to highlight the strength of the collection in an engaging way and with humor.” New board member Kim Randall said of the exhibit that some of the items were familiar but others she was seeing for the first time.
Not to be forgotten are the farms and farm families. Cynthia Almada Dawicki’s grandparents stated to Gaudet that her family began farming on Acushnet Road since 1920. You’ll recognize the home on Crystal Spring Road in the “now” photo.
The exhibit will be on view through the fall season.
By Marilou Newell