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Maine Side Trips: A Visit to the World's Only Museum of Umbrella Covers

Tom Porter

We continue with our summer series looking at some of Maine's more offbeat - and perhaps lesser known - museums. Today we take a short ferry ride from the Portland waterfront across to Peaks Island.

  "Welcome to the Umbrella Cover Museum. You're in the world's only museum of umbrella covers - umbrella sleeves from all over the world."

Meet Nancy 3 Hoffman, the director, curator and founder of the Umbrella Cover Museum. "And yes, my middle name is really the number 3," she says.

Tom Porter:  "Why umbrella covers?"
 

Credit Tom Porter
A selection of items at the Umbrella Cover Museum.

Nancy 3 Hoffman: "It started when I realized I had a few umbrella covers lying around my house. So I, like most people, take the umbrella cover off the umbrella and throw it in a closet, in a drawer, in the back of the car, and basically forget about it for the next 10 years, until you clean out the house or have to move. And then you find them. So I found some umbrella covers, started asking people if they kept their umbrella covers, and people were very kind and generous and gave them to me."

Tom Porter: "So you're giving life to these items that are normally discarded and ignored, basically?"

Nancy 3 Hoffman: "Exactly. And I realized that they're in what I'm calling a nether world between really throwaway packing and utilitarian items. A small percentage of people, about 17 percent, use their umbrella covers, but not very many."

Located in a 14 by 10 foot cabin near the island's waterfront, the museum now contains more than 1,000 umbrella covers from all corners of the globe - 55 countries to be exact. There are big ones, small ones, toy ones, bullet-proof ones.  There are covers made of wool, rubber and silk, many of them featuring original art work.

The museum even has its own theme song - performed by Nancy Hoffman herself. (Accompanying herself on the accordion, Hoffman sings: "Let a Smile be Your Umbrella (On a Rainy Day)," by Francis Wheeler, Irving Kahal and Sammy Fain.)
 
According to its mission statement, the Umbrella Cover Museum is dedicated to the appreciation of the mundane in everyday life. It's about finding wonder and beauty in the simplest of things, and about knowing that there is always a story behind the cover.
 

Credit Tom Porter
Hoffman points to a map showing the places around the globe where items in her Umbrella Cover Museum came from.

"There are some good stories here. You can hear this one," Hoffman says, demonstrating by knocking the cover twice. "That one is a hard rubber cover from the former Soviet Union. This was donated by Denisa Sedlackova from Slovakia, used to Czechoslovakia. And there was a regulation-type of umbrella cover, made in the Communist era, so I have two of those."

Hoffman says the most valuable umbrella cover on display is a silk one from Japan. It's set behind a curtain in a special corner of the museum. "It's in my museum annex, which has sexy covers in it," Hoffman says. "I have a little back room."

Tom Porter: "Oh, you have an adult section?"

Nancy 3 Hoffman: "I do. I got R-rated and X-rated covers. So right here, Tom, is the silk cover from Japan. It has beautiful irises on it, a very tight zipper. It's designed by Hanae Mori. The umbrella cost 7,500 yen, which is $75, so I think the cover itself is worth $10 probably. And I have an Italian leather one with gold gilt, also in my sexy covers annex."

Tom Porter: "Why are these R-rated particularly? I mean they're umbrella covers, they're not designed to go over anything else are they?"

Nancy 3 Hoffman: "No they're not designed to, but people do mention what they look like."

Tom Porter: "You've got all these umbrella covers in here - do you ever find that if it's raining, you're looking desperately for an umbrella?"

Nancy 3 Hoffman: "I actually have quite a few umbrellas. Sometimes people will donate an umbrella with its cover, especially if it's some special thing. So I usually can find an umbrella. I don't encourage donations of umbrellas. I just want the covers."

Tom Porter: "You don't have room for them."

Nancy 3 Hoffman: "No, I don't have room for them."

The Umbrella Cover Museum on Peaks Island is open through the summer.  

Learn more about the Umbrella Cover Museum