A Blast from the Past: the Bean Archives and its Curator


Worn leather, high heels and L.L.’s house. All are items that help comprise L.L.Bean’s official archives and museum. Sound unusual? It may be – but when you’re over 100 years old, you gather a few interesting items along the way.

 

What are the L.L.Bean Archives, exactly? A collection of Bean’s past and present housed in a white cottage near our Freeport campus. And without Ruth Porter, the Administrator of the Corporate Art and Archives, we couldn’t preserve L.L.Bean’s history in such a meaningful way.

 

Ruth has been with L.L.Bean since the Christmas season in 1973. She began as a seasonal employee who helped with the hustle and bustle of the holidays, and went on to become a full-time employee in 1977. In July 1987, after several title switches and more and more responsibility, Ruth took on the archive collection full-time.

 

So what does Ruth do on a daily basis? In her words: “If L.L.Bean Art and Archives were a museum, my title would be a long one. You could call me curator, collections manager, researcher, archivist, conservator, registrar, docent…the list goes on!”

 

Ruth says that archive employees are catalogers, caretakers and processors. They examine, repair and conserve any artifact relevant to Bean. They gather history and save it for future use. In short, they are Bean-specific curators.

 

Ruth and her staff preserve items like this one: Leon Leonwood “L.L.” Bean’s leather tackle case

Ruth and her staff preserve items like this one: Leon Leonwood “L.L.” Bean’s leather tackle case

 

According to Ruth, the mission statement of the archives is to “collect, preserve and exhibit corporate history for the purpose of increasing employee, customer and public awareness of L.L.Bean’s history, heritage and branding in an interactive and educational manner.” Looks like they’re doing a good job so far!

It’s quite the collection…what are some of Ruth’s favorite items?

 

This signed baseball from Babe Ruth and the 1930 New York Yankees

This signed baseball from Babe Ruth and the 1930 New York Yankees

Leon Leonwood Bean’s desk chair

Leon Leonwood Bean’s desk chair

The scale L.L. used to advertise how light his new shoes were

The scale L.L. used to advertise how light his new shoes were

 

And what are some of the strangest?

 

These rollerblades from a marketing company courting L.L.Bean, and Bean Manolo Blahniks that were sold in Neiman Marcus for a short time! Neither item was ever sold in L.L.Bean stores.

These rollerblades from a marketing company courting L.L.Bean, and Bean Manolo Blahniks that were sold in Neiman Marcus for a short time! Neither item was ever sold in L.L.Bean stores.

Ruth does have one favorite archive item in particular: Leon Leonwood Bean’s house! Ruth says, “People don’t think of it as an archive, but it is. The house was the first built by Samuel Holbrook in 1887/1888 and is a very distinctive Queen Anne style.”

Leon Leonwood Bean’s house and his youngest daughter

Leon Leonwood Bean’s house and his daughter, Barbara Bean Gorman

 

Customers contribute to the archives, too, Ruth says. “We get clothing, Maine Hunting Shoes, fishing gear, books, catalogs – we’ve gotten it all!” Most recently the archives took in a collection from George Soule, a former employee well-known for his decoy and duck carving business, as well as his fly-tying. The collection features decoys that he would have used to hunt with L.L.

 

We’ll conclude with Ruth’s favorite L.L. Bean-ism: “To my mind, hunting and fishing is the big lure that takes us into the great open spaces and teaches us to forget the mean and petty things in life.” Ruth says, “Hunting and fishing are not two of my hobbies, but I do agree that being out in the wide open spaces, in the fresh air, can cleanse your mind and unburden your heart faster than anything else.” We agree, and our archives serve as a reminder that we’ve been inspiring people to get outside for a long time.

 

Do you have anything you’d add to our archives?




  1. Linda Bean | May 22, 2013 | 7:35 pm

    I think Ruth is a wonderful person in our company, one who has brought us joy in locating and documenting our company history in photos and original objects. She also married our Bean cousin, Lew Porter, and that makes her special as part of the family, also!

    Kudos on a great story and for that wonderful photo of my grandfather’s chair! I had not seen
    it before nor realized that the chair had been kept.

  2. Brian Parker | July 14, 2013 | 7:14 pm

    Looking through my grandpa’s estate stuff, there is a 1948 catalog – Grandpa even kept catalogs in perfect condition, being a mechanical engineer. Please communicate how i can get the catalog to you to share in your archives. My favorite memories are trout fishing with grandpa. Thanks in advance.

    Brian Parker

    • Laurie | L.L.Bean | July 15, 2013 | 8:55 am

      Hi Brian, Thank you for contacting L.L.Bean. I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your Grandfather. We actually have originals of every catalog we ever produced in our company archives. Perhaps you would like to keep the catalog as a family keepsake? If you’d rather send back to us, please mail it to L.L.Bean Corporate Archives, 15 Casco St, Freeport, Maine 04033. Best, ^LB

  3. tim boelke | February 9, 2014 | 2:11 pm

    I found an old receipt from 1936. Is there any interest in it for the museum or other archives?

    • Laurie | L.L.Bean | February 12, 2014 | 10:11 am

      Hi Tim, Thanks for contacting L.L.Bean. We can check with our Archive department to see if they would be interested. Please send a photo of the receipt to lbrooks@llbean.com. Best, ^LB


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