Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, a former president and CEO of the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, has died in Illinois.
Catlin-Legutko led the Bar Harbor museum, which specializes in Wabanaki culture and history, from 2009 until 2019 when she left to take the top job at the Illinois State Museum in Springfield, Illinois.
She died Saturday, according to a report by the State Journal-Register in Springfield. She was 50 years old.
“For as long as I can remember, I have been in love with museums,” Catlin-Legutko said in a 2016 TEDxDirigo talk she gave in Portland. “I believe they have the power to change lives, inspire movements and challenge authority.”
Catlin-Legutko was known as an advocate for “de-colonizing” cultural museums, so that native people are involved in how their cultures are presented.
She said that too often museum exhibits have portrayed Native cultures as something embedded in the past — “static and unchanging” — and that usually the histories of native peoples have been whitewashed and homogenized.
“Decolonization is the focus of my work at the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, Maine,” Catlin-Legutko said in the talk. “When we begin to prioritize indigenous perspective, the narrative broadens and shifts, and becomes more accurate. And we have a narrative that is clear and unoppressed.”
Christopher Newell, who succeeded Catlin-Legutko in leading the Bar Harbor museum, wrote in a post on Facebook that it was “a sad day” for people who work for and support museums.
“When I arrived there was a lot of great work she did that I was able to build on,” Newell wrote.
Jo-Ellen Loring Jamieson, a beadwork artist and member of the Penobscot Nation, wrote on Facebook that she was grateful for Catlin-Legutko’s friendship and support.
“She was such a kind person, a shining light,” Jamieson said. “I can still hear her saying, ‘Jo-Ellen, you’re not charging enough for your work.’”
In 2018, Catlin-Legutko oversaw the Abbe Museum’s successful efforts to become the first museum in Maine to be designated as an affiliate with the Smithsonian Institution.
Last month, President Joe Biden appointed Catlin-Legutko to the Route 66 Centennial Commission, which is tasked with planning celebrations for the famous highway on its 100th anniversary in 2026.
Prior to running the Abbe Museum, she served as the director of General Lew Wallace Study and Museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana.
Catlin-Legutko is survived by her husband, Larry, and son, Jacob, according to the State Journal-Register.