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The Power of Music: 1860-1915

Photographic Portraits of Americans and their Musical Instruments

In America today, music fills our world, from satellite radio to blockbuster concerts, movie soundtracks to music OnDemand. Music also filled the world of our ancestors, but in a more personal way. Whereas more homes today have an Ipod, most homes from the mid-nineteenth century had at least one musical instrument in the parlor: banjo, violin, mandolin, organ, coronet, harmonica, accordion – whatever suited the individual’s fancy. At that time, music in America was more “homespun;” men, women and children played their favorite melodies and songs on their own instruments. The images presented in this exhibit show the personal side of music in America from 1860 to 1915. They serve as historical documentation for what instruments were popular during this period.

Also featured is the local history of Lewiston-Auburn and some of the instruments that were played here in the 19th and early 20th century. A beautiful upright piano, a pump organ, an early banjo and an antique mandolin are only a few of the instruments that will be on display.

Music scholar and performer Mark L. Gardner collected the portraits presented in The Power of Music exhibit over a 25-year period. They were originally collected one at a time; from numerous sources is part of his life-long research into the popular music of 19th and easily 20th Centuries in America.

Just as varied as the instruments in the photographs are the musicians themselves (the exhibit is divided into images of children, women, men, and groups). These musicians include Civil War soldiers, cowboys, farmers, Vaudeville performers, and middle-class Victorians. The photographs in this unique exhibit speak to us from a not-too-distant past, and if we listen carefully, we can hear the distant sound of a fiddle playing “Arkansas Traveler.”


Brass marching band of Lewiston, Maine. Because of the stacked muskets visible in the background of this outdoor image, this is probably the band for a local militia unit. On the double-headed base drum are the words ‘Fanfare Montcalm’ and a painting of a beaver. Cabinet card, July 18, 1885. Photographer: J.C. Higgins, Bath, Maine.