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.
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?
And what are some of the strangest?
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.”
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?