Imagine That! The Power of Picture Books

Opening May 6, 2022

Portsmouth Historical Society has assembled a collection of extraordinary illustrations for children’s picture books by a “who’s who” of New England illustrators, from Maxfield Parrish and N.C. Wyeth, to Robert McCloskey (Make Way for Ducklings), Hans and Margret Rey (Curious George), and Dr. Seuss (aka Theodor Geisel); to contemporary artists Chris Van Dusen, Mo Willems, Tomie dePaola, and Ashley Bryan. In all, more than one hundred illustrations, including new reflections on diversity and inclusion, offer a springboard for children and adults to explore the imaginative world of picture books and reading together. Accompanying the exhibition are creative reading, craft and play areas, and an impressive “Journey Box” initiative that takes picture books, reading, and book-making to local schools, libraries, and underserved families.

Historically, Portsmouth sits at the heart of a region rich in children’s book illustration and publishing, which blossomed in Boston as early as the 1830s and now reaches to Portland, Maine, and beyond. By the turn of the 20th century, aided by modern printing methods, popular children’s books featured the bold compositions and vibrant colors of artists including Maxfield Parrish and N. C. Wyeth. Their work animated the pages of stories meant to capture a child’s imagination. Surpassing the moralistic tales of colonial New England, the picture books of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries are not only entertaining and educational, but have, as the exhibition title suggests, the power to ignite children’s imaginations, reaffirm the connections that come from reading aloud, and inspire art.

Resources for Diverse Books

Here are links to resources for parents and educators to find out more about diverse books:

Where are the people of color in children’s books? 

Walter Dean Myers, The New York Times, March 15, 2014

TED Talk by author-illustrator Grace Lin

on the impact of the books that appear on your child’s bookshelf, March 18, 2016

The Diverse Bookfinder

A collection of children’s picture books featuring Black and Indigenous people and People of Color (BIPOC) published since 2002. The site includes a searchable database that makes it easy to locate and explore children’s picture books featuring BIPOC characters.

We Need Diverse Books 

Links to sources of diverse books.

Indigo Arts Alliance’s Beautiful Blackbird Children’s Book Festival

An annual summer children’s festival in Portland, Maine, celebrating the legacy of author-illustrator Ashley Bryan, with many online resources for educators and parents.

I’m Your Neighbor

Building stronger communities through children’s book resources for new immigrants.

Thank you to our generous sponsors


“Imagine That! The Power of Picture Books” Opens May 6

“Imagine That! The Power of Picture Books” Opens May 6

Coming May 6, Imagine That! The Power of Picture Books, a celebration of the extraordinary riches of book illustration in northern New England. Portsmouth Historical Society will bring world-class illustration to Portsmouth for the first time. Visitors will see beloved children’s classics―Make Way for Ducklings and Curious George―alongside the work of living artists shaping the field of children’s books today, such as Grace Lin and Mo Willems.

Stay tuned for more information, including our schedule of story hours, illustrator-led workshops for children and families, and pop-up reading events around town. Learn more about our summer-long series of programs presented in collaboration with Portsmouth Public Library, G. Willikers! Book and Toys, and the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire.

Sponsorship opportunities are still available for Imagine That! The Power of Picture Books. Show your support and let our community know that your business aligns with our mission of championing the history, arts and culture of the Portsmouth region!

For more information, or for a program packet, please contact Sue Ann Pearson, Director of Development, at

Laura Calhoun Steps in as Interim Executive Director

Laura Calhoun, former exhibitions and collections manager at the University of New Hampshire’s Museum of Art, has graciously agreed to step away as a trustee of the Portsmouth Historical Society and step into the role of interim executive director.

Having spent a few years between 2011 and 2014 on staff at Portsmouth Historical Society, Laura knows the institution well. She has been doing fantastic work at leading the team while the board of trustees’ search for the next executive director.

Both staff and board are thrilled to have Laura’s experience and positivity during this transitional time. Welcome!

Photo by Perry Smith

Become a Sustainer Today

Sustainers form a strong foundation for Portsmouth Historical Society by providing reliable support in the form of an on-going, monthly gift. They are steadfast in their commitment to make a difference in the work we do, and their generosity supports both current and future exhibitions, educational programs and institutional projects.

As a Portsmouth Historical Society Sustainer, your gift is charged automatically to your credit card each month making it easy to support a sustainable future for our organization.

And you can stop your payments anytime by simply calling the Development Office. We hope you will consider becoming a Sustainer this year!

For more information or questions please email Wendy in our Membership Office at

John Paul Jones House History

Part 2: Building a Mansion

By J. Dennis Robinson

Portsmouth was a key British colonial seaport when Capt. Gregory Purcell married Sarah Wentworth. Today, the rambling mansion of her uncle Benning Wentworth, the powerful New Hampshire governor, is also a museum located at the end of scenic tree-lined Little Harbor Road. Sarah would have been 17 or 18 when the couple built their three-and-a-half-story gambrel-roof home.

Gary Matsell, John Paul Jones House, 1997. Watercolor on paper. Prints available at the Discover Portsmouth Museum Shop!

Historians have long speculated that Hopestill Cheswell (also known as Hopestill March) was the housewright hired by the Purcells. (A housewright cut and sawed the timber into planks, then assembled the structure.) Ongoing research may soon determine whether this legend is valid. Hopestill’s father Richard is credited as the first African American to own land in New Hampshire, while his son Wentworth Cheswell was the state’s first Black elected official. Precious few houses of this design remain intact in Portsmouth. Most have been altered, destroyed, or sold off. Another Hopestill Cheswell structure on Pleasant Street, built for North Church pastor Samuel Langdon, was torn down in the 1950s and reconstructed at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts.

Sarah gave birth to 11 or 12 children in this grand home at the busy intersection known as Haymarket Square. Eight of Sarah’s children were alive by the summer of 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was read aloud from the steps of the New Hampshire State House in the center of Market Square. Months later as the American Revolution raged on, word arrived that Capt. Gregory Purcell had died, probably while at sea, leaving his large family deeply in debt.

(To be continued….)

History. Arts. Culture.

Movers and Shakers and Painters

Movers and Shakers and Painters

Those of you who have followed us for a while know that the “off” season here is anything but a vacation! We’ve got so much going on, it’s hard to keep up! We’re getting ready for the spring exhibition, Imagine That! The Power of Picture Books by painting the Academy Building galleries, sprucing up the Shop and theater, and taking delivery of some gorgeous new display cases (we are museum geeks, after all, so new displays make us giddy).

Kate Shattuck is a one-woman painting powerhouse, Mark Kiernan is the fastest carpenter east of the Mississippi, SmallCorp has the best cases money can buy, and Arnold from Vital Delivery Services went above and beyond, helping us get the heavy cases exactly where we needed and was just the friendliest guy you could meet.

Stay tuned for more updates, including scintillating images of carpet shampoo machines, office furniture, and electronics recycling.

Seeking Executive Director

The Historical Society seeks an experienced, collaborative leader to lead this vibrant, community- focused, 100-year-old organization located in the heart of a lively historically- and culturally-oriented city. The new director should have experience and expertise with museum collections, exhibitions, and historic houses/buildings. They should also have a solid record of leading staff and boards, raising money, and actively participating in the community. For further information and closing date, visit

Annual Fund Ongoing Through April 1

It’s not too late to show your support to Portsmouth Historical Society with a gift to our Annual Fund. We will be running our appeal through April 1st, so you can still help us start off the new year with a show of support!

Thank you to everyone who has been generous with a gift to our Appeal.

History. Arts. Culture.

Time to Kick-off the Holiday Season!

Time to Kick-off the Holiday Season!

All We’re Missing is Some Snow!

It’s December, we’re halfway through Hanukkah, and Santa’s getting one last surf in before he has to get to work! You can see this fantastic holiday creation and many, many more at the 31st Annual Gingerbread House Competition & Exhibition, on display daily, from 10am to 5pm, through December 22.

Vintage Christmas in Portsmouth Kickoff Party
Friday, December 3 from 5:30 – 7:30

Join us tomorrow night from 5:30 to 7:30 to celebrate the season! We’ll be announcing the community judges’ winners for the Gingerbread House Contest and gearing up for Saturday’s parade and tree lighting!

We will be asking for all adults to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test from the past 48 hours. We will not be holding children under 18 to the same rules, but everyone must be masked. We will have masks for both adults and children. We will not be serving refreshments.

Masks or no, you can tell our community judges from Kennebunk Savings, Bangor Savings Bank, and City Hall all had a great time!

Shop Local

A wonderful opportunity to support local craftspeople and find unique Portsmouth and New Hampshire themed gifts!

Staff pick: It’s not too late to get a copy of the NH Now catalogue!

And, members: Don’t forget to register for the Holiday Sip & Shop on December 8!

New Hampshire Now: Capturing History

Portsmouth Historical Society presents a panel discussion exploring the New Hampshire Now exhibition with Art Historian Inez McDermott and photographers Dan Gingras, Michael Sterling, and Gary Samson. The panel will discuss the role of the documentary photography project throughout American history and its potential to make change as they make connections with the images and themes found in the exhibition.

Thursday, December 9 at 6:00pm
In-person at 10 Middle Street and via Zoom
FREE for members, $15 for non-members

History. Arts. Culture.