Museum Pieces: Life outside our experience

Everyone is responsible for history, and expanding our own understanding.


“We can’t change what happened in the past, but we can learn the truth of what did happen without fear or defensiveness.” —Linda Coombs

Martha’s Vineyard Museum is a vital community organization continuously collecting information to share in order for us to move through the world with more clarity, cooperation, and kindness. We won’t all agree, but that doesn’t have to make us enemies. Guilt and shame are a human condition for anyone with a conscience. On the useful side, It can help us recognize when we have done something that requires some action to make things better. On the much less useful side, It can cause us to hide and develop a hardened, defensive shell that perpetuates negative outcomes. It takes effort to look at life outside of our own experience, to be open and vulnerable. But, having a fixed view on something can drastically reduce our opportunity of reaching the full splendor of our senses. It can be disorienting when we discover that something we thought of one way our whole lives, has many other layers to it. What if we could let everyone have their time holding the talking stick? What if we fan the flames of our curiosity and just listen for what we need to hear?

Aquinnah Wampanoag Elder Linda Coombs is coming to the museum this Friday, March 1, for a lunch lecture that will start at 12 noon. Lunch will be served by Little House, reserve your spot now on our website. This will be a fascinating way to spend a lunch hour, listening to stories about our Island’s first inhabitants. Linda’s goal has always been to communicate accurate and appropriate representations of the history, cultures, and people of the Wampanoag and other Indigenous nations. For more than 40 years, this citizen of the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe on Martha’s Vineyard, has lived in Mashpee. She has dedicated 50 years of her life to being a museum educator, 11 of them at the Boston Children’s Museum, 30 working in the Wampanoag Indigenous Program at Plimoth Plantation, and nine years at the Aquinnah Cultural Center. The ACC is the museum that keeps the history of the Aquinnah Wampanoag. It is housed in one of the old homesteads in the Aquinnah community, built by an Aquinnah Wampanoag man. As an interpreter, artisan, and researcher, Linda has led workshops and teacher institutes, written children’s stories and articles on various aspects of Wampanoag history and culture, and worked on all aspects of a wide variety of exhibits. She does this for her own people as much as the general public. Linda shares, “To me, every single one of us is responsible for history.” MV Museum agrees wholeheartedly and invites you to be a part of everything we do.

For example, we have another program for Friday night at 5:30. The opening reception of “Percy E. Cowen: My Own Dearest Jane.” Remember when we used to write a letter and send it through the mail? Actually putting pen to paper, into an envelope, sealing it, stamping it and walking to a mailbox or post office. The excitement and anticipation of receiving a letter is a largely lost communication tool. Sometimes the letters we received would be decorated with artwork, stickers, or other adornments, telling an additional tale outside of the letter’s written content. This exhibition will offer insights into the life of Percy Cowen, a gifted illustrator and painter with deep ties to Martha’s Vineyard. Percy was already an accomplished illustrator when he was sent overseas to serve in World War I. While he was away at war, he wrote to his wife, Jane Look Cowen, waiting for him at home on Martha’s Vineyard. These letters were filled with drawings of Percy’s experiences. MVM exhibition curator Bonnie Stacy and the artist’s grandson, Allen Whiting, will provide backstories to Cowen’s life and work. Register for our opening reception on our website. Please join us for an evening of art, light refreshments, and the unveiling of an exhibition that bridges history and creativity. Maybe you’ll be inspired to write letters again, or go hunting for old letters of your own. MV Museum aims to pull us all together under one roof to get to know our Island and each other more completely and meaningfully.

Visit for more information about upcoming exhibitions and events. The Martha’s Vineyard Museum inspires all people to discover, explore, and strengthen their connections to this Island and its diverse heritage. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday year-round. Regular hours are 10 am to 4 pm and summer season hours are 10 am to 5 pm. Admission is free to members; admission for non-members is $18 for adults, $15 for seniors, $5 for children 7 to 17, and free for children 6 and under. Islander rates are available.