October 28, 2021

Brewer mill history continues New funding helps UM Folklife Center extend project

BREWER – An effort to collect and preserve the stories of generations of former workers at Eastern Fine Paper Mill in Brewer is entering a new phase, as the Maine Folklife Center at the University of Maine has received renewed funding from the Maine Humanities Council to sustain the project.

Researchers are inviting Brewer city officials and all interested members of the public to a meeting 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 18, at the Brewer Auditorium conference room, to preview a pilot DVD showing video-taped interviews with former mill workers, along with photographs of a century of work at the mill.

The mill operated under several different owners from the late 19th century to January 2004.

The Folklife Center has interviewed about 20 people and wants to contact more people who either worked at the mill, or who were affected by its operation – or closure – including local families and merchants, said Pauleena MacDougall, associate director of the center and a faculty associate in anthropology.

“Some people have families who worked for generations and it’s very important to them that the history of the mill is saved,” she said. “Some very interesting stories have come up about the sense of community among the people who worked there, and their sense of loss.”

MacDougall said researchers want to show the community how the project is progressing and also to gather feedback from the public. School teachers, for instance, could offer ideas about how the project can be used in the classroom. The DVD to be shown at the meeting will be representative of the project, although the Folklife Center will create a finished product after more interviews.

The Folklife Center recently received a $5,000 grant from the Maine Humanities Council to continue its work.

Interviewers are recording workers’ accounts of the jobs they performed, how they learned their skills, stories about the mill, its people or events that occurred in the mill, including rituals and pranks, and feelings workers had about their jobs, both before and after the mill’s closing.

The information will be included in an exhibit titled “The Writing on the Wall: The Twentieth Century Culture of a Maine Paper Mill,” which will open in the Brewer mill and then travel throughout the state, so Mainers can learn more about the culture of paper mills and the lives of mill workers.

Photographer and new media lecturer Bill Kuykendall is overseeing the DVD production.

More information about the project or the Jan. 18 meeting is available by calling Pauleena MacDougall or Amy L. Stevens at the Maine Folklife Center at 581-1891.

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