Wednesday, January 24th, 2018

Makers at the hall

Posted on November 12, 2016 in Arts & Culture
By USM Free Press

By Matthew Craig

On Wednesday, August 31 the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association, a craftsman’s guild, held a panel meeting. There were quite a few panel members, all with very different professions. Present was a labor historian, a boiler-maker, a software engineer, photographer, blacksmith, and a violin maker. This is only a brief description of the tradesman in attendance, and many practice other trades and arts as well. This series of meetings is called ‘Makers at the Hall’, and it is part of an initiative to rejuvenate the MCMA and attract more members. Since this effort began to include more people, membership has grown almost fourfold, to about 400 members.

One thing that really stands out about this organization is its history. The MCMA has been around for just over 200 years, having been founded in 1815. At its inception, the guild was more focused on trades than arts, however its name belies its true purpose. In 1815, the word mechanic commonly meant any person who used tools in their work. This explains the wide variety of people represented by the organization. The library at the Hall is also Maine’s oldest non-academic library. In the 19th century the building served as town hall for a short time after the Portland’s Great Fire of 1866, and union soldiers were served meals in its dining hall during the civil war.

Today the MCMA is a non-profit organization that provides a library members and a venue for events relevant to the guild and its members. A great time to visit the library is during Portland’s First Friday Art Walks, during which the organization features a different artist each month.

Some might ask “where does art play into all this?” The answer is that guilds and unions are an essential part of many artistic industries, notably theatre and film. Further, the people who craft the fine instruments that many classically trained musicians play belong to similar organizations. Strong associations and networks for people involved in any trade or industry are also indispensable, so this may represent a growing artistic community in Maine, or at least a good opportunity to grow it.

There are many members in industries, but also plenty of artists who choose to participate, including people involved in theatre, music, literature and so forth. It could be theorized that this resurgence of the MCMA is part of a nation-wide reinvigoration of the labor movement. Last week’s meeting was especially appropriate, as labor day weekend was upon us. Members could be seen carrying flags in Portland’s labor day parade this year.

Quote: “The Maine Charitable Mechanic Association strives to inspire and enrich the community by promoting ingenuity, innovation, and the diffusion of useful knowledge.”