The man who helped restore the Longfellow House in Portland will help prepare the Ogunquit Museum of American Art for its next chapter.

Richard D’Abate, a poet, scholar and the former executive director of Maine Historical Society, will serve in an interim role in Ogunquit until the museum hires a replacement for Michael Mansfield, whose last day as director of the museum is Sunday. Mansfield is taking over as president of Maine Media Workshops + College in Rockport from Meg Weston, who is retiring.

Richard D’Abate will serve as interim director of the Ogunquit Museum of American Art. Photo courtesy of Ogunquit Museum of American Art

D’Abate, who lives in Wells, led Maine Historical in Portland from 1996 to 2012 and helped transform the historical society from an artifact-based organization to one with vast digital resources, accessible to anyone with an internet connection. He helped restore the Longfellow House and expand Brown Research Library. He worked as associate director of the Maine Humanities Council before that and now serves on the board of the Friends of Bedrock Gardens in Lee, New Hampshire.

“Most of my career has been in and out and from Portland and yet I have lived down here in Wells and the Ogunquit area for over 40 years. It’s kind of my back yard, and it seemed like the right thing to do,” he said in a phone interview from the museum on Tuesday. “But none of that would have mattered if I didn’t think this was a strong and significant organization. The history of increasingly significant shows and programs is great to see.”

Much of D’Abate’s professional background involves history, the humanities and letters. He’s also spent considerable time working specifically in the visual arts at Maine Humanities and organized the cartographic “The Land of Norumbega: Maine in the Age of Exploration and Settlement” at the Portland Museum of Art. A large part of his interpretive work at Maine Historical also involved the display of visual art.

Mansfield has planned the 2020 exhibition season, which begins May 1 and includes a new installment in an ongoing exploration of the life and times of museum founder Henry Strater. The 2020 Strater show will focus on his time in the Southwest and will feature paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe, George Bellows, Robert Henri and others. D’Abate’s job will be preparing the museum for the season, overseeing the installation of the exhibitions and managing the day-to-day operations.

D’Abate, who will be 74 in February, said he has committed to the museum for at least six months and will stay as long as necessary. In a press release, museum board chairman David Mallen said the museum has hired an executive search firm to conduct a national search, and it has already received interest “from a large and talented pool of candidates.”

“We are thrilled to have Richard’s thoughtful and skilled leadership during the transition period,” Mallen said in the press release. “Richard’s years of progressive nonprofit leadership experience paired with his knowledge of Maine and its history will be an asset to the museum.”

D’Abate said his goals all involve “the logistics of keeping the budget moving forward and work happening and getting ready for next season. There’s a lot to be done in the interim.”

The museum was in the midst of completing an exterior lighting project when it snowed last week. “We almost got everything in, but we had to curtain it,” said D’Abate, tackling the immediate responsibilities of his new job. “We will see if that has to wait till the spring.”


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