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Re-Site 2024 | Ashley Page – Imagining Freedom

Ashley Page

INFO
May 10, 2024 – Jun 30, 2024
Tate House Museum
Museum hours: Wed-Sat 10 am-4 pm
Note: Ashley Page's work is on view during the Tate House Museum's hours of operation and costs their standard rate to view.
Wednesday, June 19th | Juneteenth Community Day (Free admission + ticketed tour + cyanotype workshop)

Friday, May 10th
Opening reception
Wednesday, June 19th
Juneteenth Community Day
Free admission + ticketed tour + cyanotype workshop

Ashley Page’s installation asks, “What does freedom and liberation look like?” Inspired by the history of Bet/Bett (some current references stylize this as “Bette”), an enslaved African who worked for the Tate Family’s home built in 1755, and the only colonial house in Portland, that overlooks the Fore and Stroudwater rivers. 

Interdisciplinary artist Ashley Page has partnered with the Tate House Museum for the 2024 iteration of SPACE’s Re-Site project. Reconciling Portland, Maine’s history of industrialization and colonization while contending with the global reverberations of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, Imagining Freedom asks the viewer to step into the shoes of an enslaved Black individual, Bet. Her age, appearance, homelands, and quality of life are all unknown, lost to the unraveling nature of time. Only appearing as a called witness in a court record, we know nothing about Bet other than she was an enslaved servant living and working in the Tate House in the 1700s for an unknown amount of time. Researching the social, political and economic landscape of Maine in the early-late 1700’s and reviewing archival documents, Page makes an intentional departure from the archive as she asks the guiding question: What did freedom look like for Bet? What did her daydreams look like, sound like, taste like? This historial recovery project grapples with the ways enslaved peoples were excluded from historical records and navigates new ways in which we tell our stories. 

This accompanying audio piece is housed in an upstairs closet, believed to be where Bet’s bed rolls were kept. This is of architectural significance as its spaciousness leads us to think this is where Bet would have slept, since she would not have her own bedroom and it was very close to the Tates’ bedrooms and kitchen. Page’s audio piece references the past, present, and future of Black, African, and Indigenous histories, and how it is constantly evolving and being made. 

Ashley Page is an interdisciplinary artist living and working in Portland, Maine. Originally hailing from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Page considers her studio practice and curatorial projects to be a vessel for representation, intergenerational exchange, and creative expression. Having obtained her BFA in Sculpture and a minor in Public Engagement from Maine College of Art & Design, her work is an expansion of textile based techniques, bringing craft sensibilities into a sculptural domain. In 2022, she was awarded the Amelia Peabody Award for Sculpture by St. Botolph Club Foundation, and has taught various workshops at Waterfall Arts, Peters Valley, the University of Maine Orono and more. Her curatorial and studio practice has been seen in the Portland Museum of Art, Hunterdon Art Museum, Congress Square Park, the Center for Afrofuturist Studies, The Abyssinian Meeting House, Cove Street Arts, and others. Page is presently the Studio and Programs Manager at Indigo Arts Alliance, where she works within the intersection of art and activism. 


SPACE is pleased to present Re-Site 2024, the second iteration of the site-specific, temporary public art and Portland history-telling initiative we first launched in 2020. This year’s series features artwork by James Allister Sprang, Maya Tihtiyas Attean, Ashley Page, Rachel Alexandrou, and Ling-Wen Tsai, in collaboration with historians Seth Goldstein and Libby Bischof.

Each of these 5 artists were nominated by the previous group (Asha Tamirisa, Shane Charles, Heather Flor Cron, Veronica A. Pèrez, and Asata Radcliffe) and selected a site within the Greater Portland area to propose a temporary public installation or performance in response to its history. 

During the first iteration in 2020, the idea of Re-Site stemmed from the Maine Bicentennial, quickly becoming more urgent and relevant due to the growing call for change across the intersections of civil rights, climate change, public health, and political process. In the four years since these first activations, we are thrilled to bring these new projects and histories to light in order to broaden our knowledge and awareness of these local histories and understand how their impact has brought us to where we are today, through various artistic lenses. Our hope for Re-Site 2.0 is to further expand and engage upon what we first started, and broaden the artistic possibilities to demonstrate “and generate dialogue about what we want to carry with us into the future.” 

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Re-Site locations, schedules, and details:

Please take note that each site has specific days and interpretations it will be viewable to the public. All sites will feature a Re-Site lawn sign, which will include information to see the full artist statement, site history, photo and video documentation, and a bibliography with further research on key related objects viewable in public collections. Documentation will be regularly updated and archived on the individual project web pages linked below. 

Re-Site 2024 is made possible with the generous support of the Mellon Foundation’s Humanities in Place initiative.

Site History: The Tate House

Tate House is the earliest historic building in Portland open to the public. The building is also the oldest Registered National Historic Landmark in the city. During the American Revolution the Tate House survived a British bombardment that destroyed much of Falmouth. The city was renamed Portland after the war. It also survived Portland’s Great Fire of 1866. The Tate House’s location near Stroudwater Landing meant the structure was safe from both calamities since it sits outside of the densely populated peninsula.

The house was built in 1755 for Captain George Tate, Sr. in the Georgian style of architecture. Captain Tate was the senior mast agent working for the British Royal Navy Board. (See more on the mast trade below.) Tate’s social and economic standing, as well as the significance of the mast trade in colonial New England, are reflected in the size and opulence of this home.

African Enslavement
The Tates are believed to have enslaved at least one person known as Bet/Bett. Her name appears in a court record from 1772, a witness summons for an accidental murder. Bet was probably a domestic servant working in the house. Enslaved Africans in Maine did a wide variety of labor including domestic work, farming, fishing, smithing and producing barrels. It was common for a family to own a single enslaved individual to help them run their farm or business. Most enslaved Africans were brought to Maine through the “second middle passage.” This was a voyage from the West Indies to New England instead of directly from Africa. Enslaved Africans who had spent time in the British West Indies were preferred. They were referred to as “seasoned” because they spoke some English and had knowledge of European cultural norms.

Stroudwater Village
The Stroudwater village area was developed by Colonel Thomas Westbrook who held the title of mast agent before George Tate. In the 1730s he built a residence, sawmill, and paper mill along the Stroudwater River. Masts would be collected at Stroudwater landing before they were “twitched” into the Fore River and floated to the mast port located near Clark’s Point. George Tate built a wharf and a warehouse which contained a store soon after his arrival in 1751. According to Tate House, Crown of the Maine Mast Trade, “At the heart of the Casco Bay mast trade was the bustling, rough-and-ready outpost with few substantial buildings. Here, tough, seasoned mariners met equally hardened woodsmen from the interior.”

The Mast Trade

The Mast Trade
The British Empire in the 18th Century projected much of its global power through a robust Navy. Essential to their fleets were large quantities of lumber. The British needed large “sticks,” or logs, that could be turned into ship’s masts and spars; pieces of wood that were a-fixed horizontally to masts from which sails hung. Most of the large old growth trees in Great Britain had already been harvested. The British turned to lumber in the Baltic for a time but these trees became hard to procure due to changing politics in the Baltic region. The British came to realize that White Pine trees, which grew prolifically in the colony of New Hampshire and the province of Maine, made ideal masts. These first growth trees grew as high at 200 feet with a width at their trunks of four feet. The protected and deepwater harbor at Falmouth (later renamed Portland) had access to large stands of old growth trees. The streams and rivers that emptied into the harbor provided further access to suitable trees. The White Pine, the Maine State tree, grows tall and straight, making it the ideal choice for masts. Furthermore, being a soft wood, the masts made from White Pine bent and flexed in the wind. A harder wood like oak was more likely to snap or shatter in high winds at sea. Trees deemed suitable to become masts were marked with the “Kings Broad Arrow.” Below is the “King’s Broad Arrow,” a marking chopped into a tree trunk that signified that the tree was now the King’s property and could only be cut for the express purpose of delivering it to the mast port.


Resources

Ashley Page
Instagram @ashleypage.studio