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Kosti Ruohomaa’s Maine | Classic Photos of Rural Maine in the ’40s and ’50s

Yankee editor Mel Allen recently paid a visit to the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport, Maine, to get a better look at its resurrection of the work of Maine photojournalist Kosti Ruohomaa. One of the top names at the famed Black Star photo agency in the ’40s and ’50s, Ruohomaa created images of rural New England and its people — mostly Mainers — that graced the pages of the nation’s most famous magazines. But after he died in 1961 at age 47, his fame faded and his photographs ended up boxed away in a New Jersey warehouse.

That changed in 2017, when the Penobscot Marine Museum brought Ruohomaa’s archives back to his home state. There may be as many as 50,000 images in the collection, all waiting to be catalogued, and eventually scanned and digitized, then placed on the museum’s website for the public’s viewing. There have already been two exhibits from what arrived in Maine from the warehouse. Photo archivist Kevin Johnson thinks they will need $350,000 and three more years to put them all online — and bring back Kosti Ruohomaa’s legacy. 

The following are selected Kosti Ruohomaa images from the museum’s collection. You can see more in the photo essay “Bringing Kosti Home” in the March/April 2019 issue of Yankee.

All photographs from the Kosti Ruohomaa Collection at the Penobscot Marine Museum, Searsport, ME; courtesy of Black Star, White Plains, NY.

Kosti Ruohomaa’s Maine | Classic Photos of Rural Maine in the ’40s and ’50s

A skiff and a pea pod float in a foggy unidentified harbor, possibly Port Clyde. “Fog is beautiful,” Ruohomaa once said. “It is a mood which cannot be duplicated by any other variation of the elements. It is somber, gray, and mournful. It is quiet and peaceful.”

From the Kosti Ruohomaa Collection at Penobscot Marine Museum, Searsport, ME, courtesy of Black Star, White Plains, NY

A young girl swings on a rope at the Ruohomaa family barn in Rockland. Ruohomaa often used his nieces and nephews and their friends as subjects in his photographs.

From the Kosti Ruohomaa Collection at Penobscot Marine Museum, Searsport, ME, courtesy of Black Star, White Plains, NY

This view from Dodge Mountain in Rockland, site of the Ruohomaa farmstead, reveals the extensive rural surroundings of the 240-acre-plus blueberry spread. When Ruohomaa died in 1961 and was buried in Achorn Cemetery in Rockland, longtime friend George Curtis made the decision to face him toward the mountain and homestead.

From the Kosti Ruohomaa Collection at Penobscot Marine Museum, Searsport, ME, courtesy of Black Star, White Plains, NY

Maine winter was one of Ruohomaa’s favorite themes. He pitched a photo essay on the subject to Life, which gave the OK and paired him with Bowdoin College poet Robert P. Tristram Coffin. The result, “Maine Winter: A Native Son and Poet Interprets Its Moods,” featuring images taken in and around Brunswick, was published in the magazine’s February 12, 1945, issue.

Lobstermen on Monhegan Island load their dories with traps as they prepare for the season. Under a state law proposed by islanders themselves, lobsters may be taken in Monhegan waters only between January 1 and June 25. Ruohomaa spent 10 days on Monhegan in 1957, documenting the opening of the lobster season; his photos appeared in National Geographic in February 1959.

From the Kosti Ruohomaa Collection at Penobscot Marine Museum, Searsport, ME, courtesy of Black Star, White Plains, NY

Geraldine Laweryson of Bingham takes down the laundry. Ruohomaa noted in his caption that “winter or Summer, the laundry must be done.”

From the Kosti Ruohomaa Collection at Penobscot Marine Museum, Searsport, ME, courtesy of Black Star, White Plains, NY

A young boy is framed by the early dawn as he delivers the morning paper in Eastport in 1949.

From the Kosti Ruohomaa Collection at Penobscot Marine Museum, Searsport, ME, courtesy of Black Star, White Plains, NY

The sun rises between two elms on a foggy Maine morning.

From the Kosti Ruohomaa Collection at Penobscot Marine Museum, Searsport, ME, courtesy of Black Star, White Plains, NY

A mooring diver in Rockland in 1958.

From the Kosti Ruohomaa Collection at Penobscot Marine Museum, Searsport, ME, courtesy of Black Star, White Plains, NY

Ruohomaa photographed the alewife operation at Homeport Fish Company in Damariscotta Mills for a feature in Maine Coast Fisherman in May 1957. This photo shows alewives being diverted from the fish ladder before being loaded into baskets for drying and/or smoking.

From the Kosti Ruohomaa Collection at Penobscot Marine Museum, Searsport, ME, courtesy of Black Star, White Plains, NY

Bobby Lofman and George Quinn head out to fish for brook trout in the Oyster River of West Rockport. While this image may have never been published, Lofman did appear on the 1957 cover of Life for Ruohomaa’s photo essay on the Maine winter.

From the Kosti Ruohomaa Collection at Penobscot Marine Museum, Searsport, ME, courtesy of Black Star, White Plains, NY

The post Kosti Ruohomaa’s Maine | Classic Photos of Rural Maine in the ’40s and ’50s appeared first on New England Today.



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