The boards are folded back at ice cream stands, the lobster shacks have their steam pots going, the tulips have given way to lilacs. This can all mean only one thing: The Umbrella Cover Museum will soon be open to visitors.

That’s right. The Peaks Island attraction, whose motto is “celebrate the mundane in everyday life,” exhibits umbrella covers. Not umbrellas. The number and variety on display will astonish you.

The umbrella cover is the sleeve, case or sheath that covers a folded umbrella. Nancy 3. Hoffman is the founder, curator, fundraiser and docent at this one-room (plus “annex,” located in W.C.) attraction near the ferry landing on the Casco Bay island.

Umbrella covers are unusual in that people don’t use them but don’t seem to throw them away either, says Hoffman. Back in 1992, she found she had a few, which on a whim she attached to a wall in her kitchen. People added to the display, and before long she had a bona fide collection.

(And let’s get this out of the way: 3. is Hoffman’s adopted and official middle name. It’s not a typo. The comedic and creative Hoffman enjoys eccentricity.)

Hoffman, who lives on Peaks Island from April to December, cut the kitchen-based museum ribbon in 1996. In 2000 she moved the exhibit to Island Avenue, down the street from the ferry dock. You enter the white clapboard house to find a sea of fabric colors and textures, hanging from the ceiling, walls, in display cases, on shelves. Look closely. Each item is carefully catalogued with an accession number and date.

“I try to follow accurate museum techniques,” Hoffman says, even if she doesn’t take the collection seriously. Wait; maybe she does. It’s hard to tell when her tongue is in cheek and when it isn’t. “We had 35 to 40 covers in the beginning. Now we have 700. We count them every year.” She laughs.

Here is a crocheted cover with accompanying poem penned by its crafter. There is a blue velvet sheath bearing little brass charms. Colorful works by children hang on the walls. Artists have donated items they created just for the museum. A glass case holds British items. Nearby is a set of “Really Pretty Covers.”

Some are collector’s items. “We have the littlest cover on exhibit. It’s from a Barbie doll. It’s two and ¾ inches long. It’s been measured,” says the straight-faced Hoffman. Two large, yellow outdoor café table umbrella covers are “on permanent loan” from a collector in San Francisco.

Hoffman directs me to the “R-rated” annex, in which hangs a sheath with a slightly salacious story. Other “sexy” covers include silk, mesh and fake leather. “I am aware of the phallic nature of umbrella covers. I can’t deny it. It wasn’t foremost in my mind when I started the museum,” she says.
“Our mission is rather lighthearted,” she adds. “But it’s serious, too. How do you have serious humor is the question this museum raises. It’s not a little issue, appreciating the simple things in life.”

Stories, typed or handwritten, are displayed along with the covers. “I’ve gotten umbrella covers from 43 different countries, the latest, displayed in Recent Acquisitions, from Singapore and South Africa,” says Hoffman. The museum boasts the cover to an official World Cup umbrella, donated by the daughter of “one of my trustees.” And there’s one of bullet-proof Kevlar with assorted costume gems from a closed plant in Rhode Island; it “represents the loss of manufacturing.” The cover from Nepal “has the dust of four continents on it.” Hoffman wears a playful smile as she speaks.

Many tourists visit, as do island friends. Some visitors are inspired to send covers from across the globe. In fact, after spending a little time here, you’ll be hard-pressed to ignore an umbrella cover anytime you run across one. You’ll want to pick it up, clean it off, write a brief story, and send it off to Hoffman. A guest’s new awareness of this seemingly mundane object makes her happy.

A graduate of Brown and the University of Michigan, Hoffman has worked in historical preservation and architecture, and historical research. “I took a museums methods course, and I spent a lot of time in archives,” she says.

Hoffman is foremost a musician. She directs musical productions and performs internationally as a singer and accordionist. In Maine, she sings and plays with The Casco Bay Tummlers Klezmer Band and the accordion ensemble The Maine Squeeze, which she founded.

After showing off the collection, Hoffman brings out her instrument and a page of lyrics. The tour ends with a song, “Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella.” The rousing tune resonants while colorful hanging sheaths flutter in the breeze.

Sing along, sign the guest book, donate $2 to help keep the lights on. It’s impossible to depart the world’s only umbrella cover museum without a smile. And as you head for the ferry back to Portland, ponder this gem of wisdom from the museum’s literature: “There is always a story behind the cover.”

Hoffman wrote and published a book last June. It’s entitled Uncovered and Exposed! A Guide to the World’s Only Umbrella Cover Museum. Amply illustrated, it’s the next best thing to being there.

To order a copy, go to The museum is open mid-June to Labor Day. Hours vary, so call or email first: (207) 939-0301,

Nancy Heiser is a freelance writer in Brunswick.