After years of planning (and generous philanthropic contributions), the building is ready for the ribbon-cutting celebration that will take place this Saturday. The Center, which broke ground in the summer of 2022, marked the beginning of a project to transform the museum’s campus to include the Museum Store and three exhibition spaces in this sleek and modern structure. With a soft opening last month, the building has already played a pivotal role in CBMM’s fall festivals, with much more to come.
The Spy met with Exhibition Designer Jim Koerner, VP of Engagement Shannon Mitchell, and Director of Curatorial Affairs and Exhibitions Jen Dolde to discuss some of the innovations and historical aspects of this new space and the festivities planned for this weekend.
Built on the Fogg’s Landing side of campus, the structure is strategically attached to a parking lot. “Previously, when you visited, it would be pretty challenging to find where to go, to enter the museum,” Mitchell said. The Welcome Center addresses this concern, providing a seamless transition for visitors right off the parking lot. It also aligns with CBMM’s thematic storytelling approach, with the building being the opening chapter—the orientation.
As guests enter the Welcome Center, they will step onto a floor map of the Chesapeake Bay and a third-order Fresnel lens (before the use of GPS, it led the mariner from one point to another along the coast.) This will “guide” visitors through the reception area to the exhibitions. Said Dolde, “Each of these exhibits is connected to the other, and we see them both as separate and as part of a whole.”
The first one guests will come across is titled Navigating the Chesapeake’s Maritime Culture. Using CBMM’s oral history collection, photographs, and artifacts, it displays the Chesapeake as a maritime highway, habitat, and resource for the fisheries within a changing and constantly evolving community.
Dolde spoke about how these themes serve as the foundation for the entire museum, guiding the reinterpretation of existing exhibitions and creating new ones. She also highlighted the importance of including diverse and underrepresented stories. “There’s tradition, there’s innovation, and there is the Chesapeake as a source of inspiration and identity.”
Walking further into the Center is perhaps the heart of this building. Called Water Lines: Chesapeake Watercraft Traditions, it showcases CBMM’s small craft collection. This exhibition unveils vessels that have been in long-term storage, some of them being shown for the first time. The boats are shown elevated and presented as the artistic pieces they are.
Associated with each are panels that honor not only the craftsmanship but also the human stories behind these vessels. In one, you will see and read about the Marianne, originally a work boat converted for leisure use. Another boat and story is the Alverta, owned by a black Waterman on Kent Island, whose fortunes rose and fell with the oystering industry.
Said Koerner, “From an engagement standpoint, we’re setting a foundation. You’ll learn the stories and see the boats and the craftsmanship that goes into them. As you go through the museum, you’ll see an image of either that same boat or one similar to it and how it was used by the w waterman, fishermen, crabbers, or just the casual boater. You’ll have more of an understanding of how all these parts came together and how these things are built. It will be a richer experience for our visitors.”
He also emphasized the cultural value of these vessels, noting that as generations pass, preserving these stories becomes increasingly crucial. “We need to be able to hang on to these stories because those are all part of the fabric of our community,” he said.
Still to come is the Stories from the Shoreline, which will expand the current Waterfowling exhibition, delving into the ecology of the Bay and the experiences of those who have called the region home. Don’t miss the custom-designed glass case from Germany, which connects the various spaces within the Welcome Center and will hold more of the storytelling features.
Mitchell envisions the Center as the starting and ending point of a guest’s journey at CBMM. “On a typical day,” she said, “we’ll orient you to the campus and give you an overview of what’s happening. Perhaps give you some recommendations on what to see and do that day.” It’s a curated journey, ensuring guests leave with a sense of maritime history and a comprehensive understanding of CBMM’s offerings.
Which is why the Museum Store is such an integral part of the Welcome Center, an opportunity to expand and take home some of the experience. It will offer unique merchandise with coastal, nautical, and regional themes. It is an engaging atmosphere with its stylized ceiling tiles, a historic photo of Crisfield’s Horsey Brothers Department Store, and exhibit vessels.
CBMM invites everyone to the free Welcome Center Grand Opening celebration from 10 am to 4 pm on Saturday, December 2nd.
Some highlights include a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10:30 am, after which the “Winter on the Chesapeake” festival will officially begin. It features presentations, hands-on activities, campus tours, and live music for visitors of all ages.
Headlining the entertainment at 11:30 am is renowned jazz saxophonist (and St. Michaels native) Anthony “Turk” Cannon. The festival will also offer unique demonstrations, including an invasive species cooking demo (?) by Chef Zack Mills of Baltimore’s True Chesapeake Oyster Co. and a scrapple-making demo (!) by butchers from The Village Shoppe in St. Michaels.
There will also be a variety of food items and beverages, including festive cocktails for guests to enjoy. Although the event is free, guests are encouraged to get more information and RSVP at cbmm.org/WelcomeCenterGrandOpening.