March 4, 2005
An exhibit that tells the story of migrant rakers, many of them from the St. John Valley, who traveled to Washington County every August to work the blueberry harvest, will be on display in the gallery room of the new Acadian Archives/Archives acadiennes building March 18 through 27.
"Fields of Blue: Blueberry Rakers and Their Stories", is a compilation of work by Washington County native Allison Ouellet.
Through the use of text quotes, audio selections from interviews, photographs and objects, the exhibit tells the story of one hand raking crew employed by Cherryfield Foods Company, and focuses on the experiences of Franco-American rakers from the St. John Valley.
The crew was once one of the largest multi-ethnic crews to sweep across blueberry barrens.
Over time the crew shrunk in size, and the harvest of 2002 marked the last year of its existence.
"For generations migrant blueberry rakers have traveled to Washington County during the month of August to help harvest the wild blueberry crop found on the barrens, a vast stretch of land that is void of almost anything except wild low-bush blueberry plants. The industrialization of agriculture has dramatically affected these seasonal workers. Rakers who once worked on hand crews have gradually but steadily been displaced by machines," said Ouellet.
The material displayed in the exhibit is based on ethnographic evidence and information drawn from material culture that was collected to tell the story of a group of people that is under-represented in the documentary record.
Visitors to the "Fields of Blue" exhibit can listen to first-hand accounts of the seasonal blueberry harvest workers.
"Theirs is a story of hard work, long hours, and family tradition," said Ouellet. Perhaps one raker put it best when he said: "It's amazing some of the stories that you can actually listen to and hear that people went through out on the barrens. You know, there's a lot of stories, there's a lot of them I don't know."
According to Acadian Archives/Archives acadiennes Director Lisa Ornstein, the "Fields of Blue" exhibit will help tell an important story about the Acadian experience.
"I am very pleased that Allison Ouellet is bringing this exhibit to the Acadian Archives. Part of our mission is to celebrate and disseminate information about the history and culture of the St. John Valley," said Ornstein. "For generations, families from across the St. John Valley have taken part in the harvesting of crops locally and in other regions of Maine. For many, working the harvest has been both an important source of revenue and an important formative experience whose values resonate over a lifetime. 'Fields of Blue' brings to light the stories of some of these families."
The artist herself is no stranger to the St. John Valley. Ouellette spent the summer of 2004 completing an internship at the Centre culturelle et historique du Mont Carmel in Lille, Maine.
She is a graduate student of anthropology with a concentration in museum studies at the University of Denver.
In 2002, she graduated from the University of Maine with a bachelor of arts in anthropology with minors in Franco-American studies, Canadian studies, and history.
The Washington County native was surrounded by the wild blueberry harvest at an early age. She started raking herself at the age of 12.
"As an anthropologist, I became interested in the stories and experiences of the rakers I met. Most of these rakers were from the St. John Valley, so I am very excited that 'Fields of Blue' will be displayed in their home region so that they have a chance to see an exhibit resulting from their collaborative efforts. The seasonal blueberry harvest was also an important part of many families' lives in The County," said Ouellet.
The public is invited to attend an opening reception for "Fields of Blue", which is being coordinated by the Acadian Archives/Archives acadiennes, on Friday, March 18, from 2:00 through 4:00 p.m.
Individuals and groups can view the exhibit between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday between March 18 and May 27 or by appointment with the Archives staff by calling (207) 834-7535.