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LEWISTON - Museum L-A announces the opening reception for the largest in its Portraits & Voices exhibit series with Shoemaking Skills of Generations on Sept. 25 from 4-6 p.m. The museum's galleries will be open free of charge at its Bates Mill Complex location. The exhibit celebrates Lewiston and Auburn's rich history and present-day legacy in shoemaking.

Visitors will be greeted by a photo collage titled "The Many Faces of Shoemaking" featuring workers in Lewiston-Auburn's shoe industry both past and present. The photo wall will continue to grow throughout this year-long exhibit with photos being taken of shoeworkers during the opening reception.

The main exhibit hall features 52 framed portraits of shoeworkers and their paired oral histories. Oral histories recorded by oral historian Andrea L'Hommedieu and portraits taken by documentary photographer Mark Silber, Ph.D. richly explore the stories of the people who helped put Auburn "on the map" as one of the largest producers of shoes in the nation at one time. These people built an industry that continues to produce world-famous shoes today.

"Studying and reading the oral histories of the people from the shoe industry has amazed me as to how huge, skilled and valuable this industry was," notes Rachel Desgrosseilliers, Museum L-A's executive director. "Those remaining have shown a creative and inventive way to define their own niche that allows them to not only survive but actually thrive," Desgrosseilliers continued.

A time line begins in the year 1824 and documents the history of shoe making in the Twin Cities. Through photos and text visitors will learn the steps of making a shoe, welt-boot making, and about the "cottage industry" of shoemaking at home.

A series of patents with red seals from the U.S. Patent Office with intricate machinery design invented by Lewiston's own Adrien Jalbert in the 1940s-1960s will be on display. "Seeing them was so inspirational to me that I asked our Educators to come up with a program for the young people," said Desgrosseilliers. "We have decided on having a Young Inventors Contest. What better opportunity to challenge our youth to show us their creativity."

For the first time in Museum L-A's history, visitors will engage with the stories of work and community online at www.museumla.org. The oral histories will be online through funding from the ABC Community Grant and Androscoggin Bank. Two computer touch-screen kiosks will be available for discovery as visitors share their stories interactively online. DVD productions of the art and technology of shoemaking will be available in the multi-media room sharing the making of a shoe in a variety of ways.

A hands-on area for all ages will explore the experience of selling shoes as a corner of a gallery is turned into a Lamey Wellehan shoe store of long ago. There will be an opportunity to measure one's own foot or a model of shoe size from notable people.

Visitors can tour and leave their lasting legacy on this year-long exhibit by purchasing a shoe last with inscribed tag that will become part of one of the art installations. The cost of a shoe last is $50 with all proceeds going to fund exhibit-related programs and workshops.

The exhibit is funded through sponsorships from: Ted Johanson and Pat Lundholm, former owners of Falcon Shoe; New Balance Athletic Shoe, still producing shoes today in Norway, Maine and throughout the United States; Lamey Wellehan, still fitting quality shoes today throughout Maine; Rancourt & Company Shoecrafters, artisans still producing fine fancy-stitched shoes today; and with the support of more than 150 community members and shoeworkers. Additional grant funding was provided from the USDA, the Maine Arts Commission, the Maine Community Foundation, and the Maine Humanities Council.

Museum L-A is located at 35 Canal Street, Bates Mill Complex, at the corner of Canal and Chestnut streets and is open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information call the Museum at 207-333-3881.