“The Nature Museum” is one of Chewonki’s smallest but most important buildings, a reminder of the some of the important people who shaped Chewonki in its early years and a symbol of our longstanding commitment to teaching young people about the natural world. Although it’s busy every summer as headquarters for the Boys Camp nature program led by “Doc Fred” Cichocki, Ph.D., the Nature Museum had deteriorated over the years and badly needed sprucing up.
The modest little building, perched on the western edge of the lawn behind the Farmhouse, got its grand name from Chewonki founder Clarence Allen and his protégée Roger Tory Peterson (aka RTP), who led Camp Chewonki’s nature program for five years in the late 1920s and early 1930s and went on to become a world-renowned ornithologist, naturalist, artist, and author. Laboring over his first book, A Field Guide to the Birds, while he worked at camp, Peterson wanted a quiet place to draw and paint as well as teach. He needed north light, a common preference among artists because it is steady and diffuse. Allen allowed him to clean out and otherwise upgrade the chicken coop and put a window in the roof on the north side. It became Peterson’s palace.
The rehabilitation work that’s been going on this spring not only gives the Nature Museum a fresh look but also assures that the building is conserved for the future. It will continue to hold specimens, charts, reference books, and lists of local species. It’s where campers meet before an expedition with Doc Fred and return to afterward to share what they gathered and discuss their observations.
Former Chewonki President Don Hudson shared “a great story that Roger Tory Peterson told about losing a special, very fine-tipped brush that had been given him by Louis Agissez Fuertes [a highly regarded ornithologist and illustrator who had died in 1927]. When he returned to camp the next summer (1930 or 1931), RTP had the floor ripped up in an effort to find the brush. He found the handle, but the bristles had been chewed off by mice. I’m sure Clarence was annoyed by RTP’s response to losing a brush, as it took someone time to pull up a good portion of the floor and then to put it back.”
Carpenter Randy Nichols of Wiscasset, could have handled that. He and his crew have been rehabilitating the Nature Museum this spring, replacing rotten sills and putting in new doors and windows. He has also replaced the leaky shingle roof with a durable steel one. “It’s a wonderful improvement,” says Facilities Manager Carob Arnold. The Nature Museum is now ready for this summer–and the next 100 years.