Visualizing Allen Island

In early September, I took students from my course CI245: Documentary Production out to Allen Island for a chance to develop their shooting skills. I asked students to tell a visual narrative about the island in 2-3 minutes. Students researched the island ahead of time, watched videos about the island, and read several articles about how the Wyeth’s acquired and shaped the island.

Our ride out there was pretty bumpy and wet. The students refused to sit in the cabin and much preferred getting soaked on the back of the boat. Jim kept some of us mostly dry though. The first night on the island was a bit drizzly and cold, but students immediately started shooting. There wasn’t much of a sunset to speak of, but we did get some time to explore.

The next morning about half the class woke up early to catch the sunrise – it was a good one, but it also included a tiny rain shower. Students spent all of Saturday shooting and exploring the island. Watch some of the videos below and read some of the students’ comments to see the results of their trip.

“I loved our trip to Allen Island. It was a great opportunity for me to get to know my classmates in a more intimate setting (kind of like an abbreviated COOT). The island itself was beautiful, especially when the weather cooperated and the sun came out. I loved that our entire group was invested in taking in the beauty of the island (it helped that part of our assignment was to capture the island’s beauty). Having access to spaces like Allen Island really makes me feel like I’m getting a lot out of my college experience. My horizons are broadened to beyond just the classroom, and I’m excited for more opportunities like this in the future.” – Nick Ho

“I had a great experience on Allen Island. It was a beautiful location to practice my camera and filming skills for the first time. The island is a very unique place and having access this location allowed me to experience an aspect of Maine that I otherwise would not they access too. Although I do not think this was an authentic Maine experience, as the island was manicured, and access is limited, it was still an interesting look at the coast of Maine. The size of the island and the structure of our trip allowed for each individual to discover different aspects of the island.” – Caroline Wren

“Filming a documentary was an incredibly unique experience.  Firstly, it was wonderful to experience the island. I have never been on an island in Maine so I am grateful to have been able to spend the night in such a beautiful setting.  Also, the island provided a wonderful virtual canvass to film for my documentary. ” – Drew Williamson


Scouting the frog ponds – June 6, 2018

Participants—Cathy Bevier, Renner Thomas, and Curtis Zhuang

 This was my first trip to the island for 2018, and I enjoyed scouting for frogs with summer research assistants, Renner and Curtis. We were amazed by all the new lambs jumping around the terrain of the north end compound!

Our day trip was successful even though it was relatively cool and windy. Green Frogs, Lithobates clamitans, were abundant in all 13 inhabitable ponds. Many males were already giving a few calls in the daytime, and we certainly startled a fair share of frogs basking and feeding along the shorelines. I set out a sound recorder at Marsh Pond and look forward to hearing what it captures over the next two weeks. Our next visit will be with the rest of the Amphibian Health research team, and we’ll spend a few days sampling male Green Frogs—stay tuned!

Looking for Indigenous Presence in Allen Island

Professor Isabel Quintana Wulf – On April 20-21 I had the pleasure of bringing students from my EN398 Space and Place in Contemporary Native American Literatureclass to Allen Island. The course focuses on understanding the importance of “space” (abstract concept denoting a geographical area) and “place” (a space that is tied to the history and lived experience of a people) for thinking about Native ways of living in the world and for understanding the themes in contemporary Native American literature.

In the class, we have thought about the differences between Euro-American cartographic practices and Indigenous mapmaking to consider different understandings of place and the role they occupy in Western and Indigenous systems of knowledge. We have read literary works by Native authors that deal with histories of removal, relocation, allotment, forced boarding school education, museums, sovereignty, endurance, and survivance—all the time keeping ideas about place and identity in the forefront.

For the last couple of weeks, we have read texts by writers of the Wabenaki Confederacy, including Penobscot, Abenaki, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, and Mi’kmaq writers. Using Dawnland Voices: An Anthology of Indigenous Writing from New England, edited by Siobhan Senier, students have learned more about the peoples whose lands we occupy and have thought about how space and place come together in our understanding of the cultural and geographical palimpsests we live on. We went out to Allen Island with all the knowledge about Wabenaki people in our minds.

Following the arc of the class, Allen Island provided the perfect landscape to think about how, as anthropologist Keith Basso’s explains, “when places are actively sensed, the physical landscape becomes wedded to the landscape of the mind” (Wisdom Sits in Places). As we contemplated the beautifully curated landscape of Allen Island, we thought about space and place together: what ideologies are represented in the buildings we see on the island? Where do we find Indigenous presence in it? How do the visible structures in the island reshape the narrative of that place?

Jake Ward opened the Sail Loft for us and we were able to see the birch bark canoe that Passamaquoddy crafter David Moses Bridges made in the early 2000s. Jake regaled us with tales of his experience as a participant in the project and all he learned about it—his personal experience touched the students deeply and they appreciated his bonhomie and the time he made for us and our thousand questions. He also showed us the cardboard boxes containing archeological findings that are waiting to be catalogued and moved to the museum’s collection of drawers.

All in all, the trip was a wonderful experience for us, made all the more fantastic by the sunshine of Saturday morning—sunshine that brought hopes of spring to the chilled landscape of late-April St. George’s peninsula!

Here are some of the reflections of my students after the trip:

“This was my second visit to Allen Island this year, and although the experiences were very similar in some ways, I really enjoyed going with this class because I saw the island in a different context. Being able to see the work that Jake and his crew are doing with the museum was an element of the island that I didn’t previously know much about. It was very interesting to see the artifacts that have been collected on the island, and have a better idea of how the museum will present the history of the island, as well as Andrew Wyath’s artwork. As a group, I enjoyed being able to discuss the concept of place, and how people can impose different histories onto a landscape. The colonial structures are beautiful, and paint a picture of 19th century living, even though the interiors of the buildings are very modern. 

I also really enjoyed being able to spend time by the ocean. Traveling to the island clears my head and having the space from Colby’s campus is very cleansing. The sun and the waves gave me some much needed vitamin D and was very refreshing. The landscape is so unique, as it combines old growth forest with grassy pastures and rocky cliffs. I appreciated exploring with my peers and discovering a part of Maine that so few people get to experience. I am always impressed when I look at the horizon and can see no land in the distance. It is a humbling view. Lastly, I am grateful for the opportunity to spend more time with my classmates and create bonds with peers that transfers back to campus, proving that this field trip will have a lasting impact on all of us. Thank you!”

“Going to Allen Island with my Native American Literature class was an amazing interdisciplinary learning experience. The class focuses on space and place, which is a unique and prevalent concept in Native American Literature. Allen Island, with its extensive history and beauty, was a prime place to consider how space and place differ and what they can look like in different contexts.  Being from the West Coast, there are many more reservations and learning centers for Native Culture, but most Natives were pushed out of the Northeast early on, and their presence is much less obvious in contemporary times if you aren’t looking for it. Allen Island was also a good place to study Native American presence on the East Coast today. Looking at native artifacts and a relatively untouched landscape made it easier to envision how Native people may have lived all over Maine, perhaps even on the land that Colby now occupies. 

Allen Island also was also the catalyst for a wonderful discussion about our role today towards the preservation of Native culture. It is easy to say that colonization is bad, but is harder to consider what actions can be taken today to equalize opportunities for those that are negatively affected by the lasting effects of colonization. The thoughts and conversation that stemmed from the Allen Island trip helped clarify my role as a college student, person of privilege, and change maker. It made me want to think less just about what is wrong with the system, but also how it can be constructively criticized, and what changes can be made to make things better. 

On a lighter note, Allen Island is also simply a place of aesthetic beauty and restoration. Although some of the plants are similar to inland Maine, the island and its associated activities felt very separate from my hectic college life. Thank you to all who made the opportunity possible!”

“Being able to visit Allen Island was an incredible educational experience for me.  I found it to be completely different and much more engaging than what I had expected.  It was very cool to consider the rewriting the narrative of the Island to completely be centered around Wyeth and his paintings instead of the American Indian history of the island.  The governmental involvement in the rewriting, by registering the buildings as historic sites to serve as a place to “give a sense of orientation to the American people” as the certificates say, also made me wonder which American people this Island was aimed at orienting.  Something about the fact that it was an Island made this experience and thinking about its history more immersive.  Overall, I’m very glad that I went.”

Art and Maine – Connecting People with Place

On October 20, Professor Tanya Sheehan and her Art and Maine class, AR347, visited with Jamie and Phylis Wyeth in Tenants Harbor to view three generations of Wyeth art.  After the visit, the class departed Port Clyde for Allen Island where they spent the night.  Allen Island was purchased and developed by Betsy Wyeth and is now owned and administered by the Up East Foundation.   Student reflections (Sheehan Maine Art 2017) capture the impact of the program from the student perspective.

“When I learned Colby was partnering with the Wyeth’s to have select classes visit Allen island I was immediately captivated. Sophomore year I tried to accompany the chemistry department to no avail, before specifically signing up for AR347: Art and Maine so I could travel to the location. Although my expectations were set extremely high (thanks to my own engagement with the mythos surrounding the island) I truly had the experience of a lifetime. Being able to visit the landscape that inspired one of my greatest artistic influences was illuminating, and helped me understand Andrew’s work in a way I could have never achieved without this trip. Not to mention being able to meet Jamie Wyeth, and speaking with him both about his artwork and working in Maine. I applied to Colby without ever thinking such an opportunity could be made available for me, and now I am part of one of the first art-history courses to engage with the island.”

 “I found the architecture of Allen Island to be so fitting with the landscape. I felt transported on the island, as if I was in a fairy tale in some idyllic European village. Arriving off the boat to a herd of sheep chewing at the bright green grass behind the house where we were to stay was a welcome surprise. Wandering the island, I felt it was so much bigger than I had expected. As I explored, I began to feel how undeniably Maine the island really is. Speaking to Jamie and Phyllis Wyeth before departing from Port Clyde was so special and provided us with such amazing insight into Jamie’s work and the work of his father and grandfather. My visit to Allen Island was very educational and special, and I’m incredibly grateful for having had the opportunity to visit.”


“Allen Island is a prefect combination of sea culture and Wyeth family culture. The island, the ocean, all the animals living on the island, the Wyeth family members, and even the workers on the island are integrated as an entity.  … I didn’t realize they are inseparable from each other until saw the island far away on the ocean, and of course after really exploring the island.”

“The Wyeth family owns the island and it is like a magical place “created”, designed, and constructed by the family, even though Andrew Wyeth’s wife, Betsy, should take most of the credit. The grey houses, the scattered ponds, and the roads are well designed, not only being super functional, but also to fit into the picturesque landscape. The three great artists from the Wyeth family live there and create extraordinary drawings and paintings on the island, depicting the island and the ocean. Their artworks are meant to record every single beautiful detail on and around the island – seagulls, lambs, trees, small hills, waves, boats, and etc. The landscape is also so inclusive that the artists can include their dreams and imaginations in the whole context of this island and the sea. Moreover, the workers on the island employed by the Wyeth family are so dedicated to what they’re doing because they love this place, this “small world” they built together with the Wyeth family.”

End of the season

Date— 17 October 2017

Participants— Cathy Bevier, Louis Bevier, Kaimyn O’Neill, Kate O’Halloran

It was a spectacular autumn day with a cloudless sky and plenty of “effective” sunshine. As we approached the island, Louis spotted flocks of migratory songbirds, mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers, staging for the next leg of their trip south. So he went to work immediately to scope out what species were around, and in what abundances (see his trip report at the link below). Once again, the island crew was so generous and helpful, even with their hands full with all the seasonal tasks. We’re grateful for all their support this past year, which certainly included dynamics new to the island schedule.

Goals today were to do one last round of looking and listening for my soundscape ecology project, to set out sound recorders for the day, and to make individual recordings of at least two species of bumblebees. We accomplished all three, and even found a few Red-backed Salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) and Green Frogs. The flower garden still had lots of flowers and was alive with activity. Bumblebees buzz as they foray between buds, and there were also several species of flies enjoying the nectar. Some of the forested areas were also still productive and many bird species were singing away either during a migratory stopover, or maintaining their sites as year-round residents


Louis’s ebird list

Islands have a lot of Exposed Rock!

GE335 Visit to Allen Island

Our GE335 (Geologic Field Methods) spent the weekend of September 29–October 1 on Allen Island. The group consisted of: Associate Professor Walter A. (Bill) Sullivan, Alyson Churchill (’18), Kaci Kus, (’18), Patt Lamom (’18J), David Miller (’19), and Zena Robert (’18). Assistant Professor Bess Koffman also joined the group on Saturday evening and Sunday. The students used this opportunity to identify and document different rock units, interpret the complex cross-cutting relationships between these units, and make detailed geologic maps of the southern half of the island. These observations and data will provide the basis for written reports in this W-2 course. Bess enjoyed her introduction to the Island and scouted for a possible future field trip. We were gifted with spectacular weather, and everyone enjoyed the sunsets and sunrises as well as the camaraderie in the bunkhouse. As always, Jake and Jim were helpful and kind. Below our the students’ reflections on our experience.

“My overall experience visiting Allen Island was very positive. Not only is the island beautiful, but the housing accommodations are very clean and well taken care of. Jim, the man who ferried us to the island, was very friendly and helpful in loading and unloading our belongings on and off of the boat. As for the geology of the island, it is really interesting and easily accessible, which made mapping a very enjoyable experience. Luckily we had good weather for both days of our excursions. I think the small area of the island was very conductive to working as a small group in the field, and I was able to learn a lot by being able to experience the geology in person alongside my peers. I had a lot of fun and would definitely be happy to visit again for another field trip in the future!”—Kaci Kus (’18)

“Allen Island is a great site to practice field mapping. Our trip to Allen Island was a great experience. We had comfortable and clean accommodations. There was a golf cart that we were allowed to use on the island. The rock formations on Allen Island were very interesting. Our original plan was to map the coastline and the inland exposure of the whole island, but once we got to explore the area we realized that with this vast amount of information we would not be able to do that. We thus could only map about 2/3 of the island, mostly the coastline on the southern part. I found multiple interesting geologic features as well as rich and diverse ecosystem there. This place is truly unique, and I hope that more students will come and grab this valuable educational opportunity it has to offer.”—Patt Lamom (’18-J)

“Spending the last weekend of September on Allen Island was incredible, from our boat ride out to our boat ride back. The caretaker and boat driver, Jim, was a great resource with knowledge of the island’s past and present. Living in the bunkhouse is much more of a real life experience than living in a college dorm because you have to organize, do chores, and work together. The classroom is set up very nicely for a group of students to learn background information, etc. before going out exploring and studying the island. The ease of walking or driving around the entire island is fantastic. It provides an amazing study site on an isolated oasis. The island itself is beautiful and was definitely hard to leave.”—David Miller (’19)

“The time my class spent on Allen Island was a valuable educational experience. We have learned so much during our time here at Colby, and I believe that it is important to take our knowledge and apply it to different situations. Geologists need to be versatile in their studies of new areas, and Allen Island gave us the opportunity to study somewhere where we haven’t been before. We were able to view various geological features that we have learned about in the classroom on a beautiful island, which is an experience that some students will not have the opportunity to have in their college careers. The trip also gave my class the opportunity to bond as we worked together to study along the coastline. I am very thankful and appreciative to have been able to study geology on Allen Island. It is an experience I will never forget.”—Zena Robert (’18)

Documentary Production – Visual Narratives

On the weekend of September 23rd, I took my CI245: Documentary Production course out to Allen Island. I asked the students ahead of time to research the island and to map out an outline for a visual narrative. They had to tell a story about the island in three minutes or less and it had to have a coherent narrative structure without relying on dialogue. Students could use music or voiceover. The students filmed from the moment we arrived in Port Clyde up until we boarded the boat to return.

   “Coming in with the goal of producing a film about the relationship between humans and nature, the built environment and what is natural, I was able to explore Allen Island throughout the day making use of the golf carts and Colby camera equipment.” – Danya Smith.

“Having this field trip early on in the semester was a great way to bond with classmates and gain first-hand experience with the challenges of documentary filmmaking. By essentially “throwing us in the deep end,” I was able to quickly develop a good idea of the entire filmmaking process, and learn what adjustments I would make to overcome certain obstacles in the future.” – Annie Lee

“My favorite part of the trip was when my group stumbled upon a sheep, which was stuck in a hole filled with water, and we had the chance to save it. We found the island’s caretaker and brought him to the hole where he was able to safely dislodge the sheep” – Max Manos.

“In addition to being my first class trip, it was my first time on an island in Maine; as I am a senior and likely will be living outside of Maine in the future, I’m really glad I got to stay on a beautiful island here. Allen Island embodies the natural beauty of the Maine coast in a private, preserved setting that was perfect for shooting landscape shots of the island”- Stephan Chaikovsky

“Overall, I had a great time working together with my fellow classmates to have a calm and productive two days on Allen Island. I really hope I get the chance to go back and find that sheep herd. ” – Jenna DeFrancisco


“As students, we created our own structure, with simple chores to do chosen by each person split equally among everyone (sweeping, dishes, cooking, etc.) This freedom gave us opportunity to essentially roam the island freely and do what we needed to get our projects done, as long as we stuck with a buddy.” Dylan Shaw

“I found myself enjoying the serenity, lost in the texture of a single fern, mesmerized by the waves.” Abby Snyder

Climate Research – 9/15/2017

Two faculty and eleven students spent the second weekend in September on Allen Island.   Our trip focused on climate changes research (mostly fixing and calibrating sensors).  We also made some time for walking the island and discussing recent papers on surface ocean temperatures in the Gulf of Maine.   Enjoy a few photographs of the trip and read the student “Allen Island – Student Impressions” to understand why Allen Island is such an amazing resource for Colby.

” Being at Allen Island is an amazing experience. It is not only a magnificent place visually, but it also provides many opportunities for interdisciplinary cooperation between Colby’s departments. While I’m at the Island, I see both the artistic value and potential of the environment, as well as the ecological interactions occurring all around me. Each trip I take is an opportunity for growth, both as an artist, and as a scientist.”   – Sergio Madrigal

 “I first heard of Allen Island in general chemistry. A professor was whisking away a group of students to the island for a weekend trip. The words “climate change research” were enough to hook me in, but my friend provided the final push by turning to me and saying, “You should definitely go.” I gave in easily to the peer pressure.

“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I received a confirmation email. I’m a little glad I went in with no idea of what Allen Island was like, since it made me be open to any and all kinds of information. Over the two days, I became in awe of everything around me – which, with the type of views the island provided, it was easy to be. While being enchanted by the scenery, I listened to Professor King sneak in teaching moments wherever he could. I learned of the rapid warming occurring in the Gulf of Maine, and its impact on underwater organisms and the seafood industry. I learned of the history of Allen Island, and the many ways the island can become a classroom. I felt like I learned about a variety of topics, not just specifically climate change. All the information related to each other in some way, so it left me with a well-rounded crash course on not only Allen Island, but on how Allen Island could help further understand climate change, Maine art, and Maine history. If given the chance, I’d go back in a heartbeat, because I know I’ll come back having learned something new…. ”   – Ana Petire

August 30 Bee Survey

On August 30, Professor David Angelini made a solo survey of Allen Island looking bumblebees. He found 59 individuals of 5 species, all north of the ponds in the middle of the island. The species of our greatest interest, Bombus borealis made up about 20% of the bees, down from being the overwhelming majority of foraging bees on Allen in July. However, this number is still high compared to most areas of the mainland.

A Great Day Exploring Herring Gut and Allen Island

A visit is worth a thousand words.    On August 2, 2017  Whitney King, Mandy Grant, Nicole Denier, Carol Hurney, Justin Becknell, Laura Seay, Stacey Sheriff, Ghana Gherwash, and Kara Kugelmeyer spent the day visiting the Herring Gut Learning Center and Allen Island.  The warm summer air over the cool ocean water created a fog bank from Port Clyde to the shores of Allen Island.   We had great weather five miles off the coast but were really appreciative of the Archangels radar and an experienced captain on the ride to and from the island in very dense fog.

Highlights of the day were the tour of the island village and the realization that the rustic accommodations at the bunk house are really not that rustic!  A hike south the length of the island found the group appreciating the stone throne build into the landscape of the island ponds and the hundred year old birch trees that have successfully out competed the island spruce for both space and light.  The group left the island with ideas for future projects ranging from the sociology of island communities, expanded writing opportunities, and an investigation of the forest ecology.  

At the Herring Gut Learning Center the group played with the tide pool specimens on display for a local community open house and had an opportunity to tour the aquaponics systems.  

The favorite crop for the group was the basil that seems to thrive on nutrient rich waste water from the Tilapia fish tanks.

This will be out last big group visit for the summer.   We will continue our work building the climate monitoring station and bumble bee surveys over the next few weeks.   With the start of school in September we are scheduled to be on Allen Island or at Herring Gut almost every weekend with programs on Documentary Video, Art in Maine, Geologic Mapping, Climate Research, and Alternative Education.