Founded in 1959 and now comprising five wings, nearly 8,000 works and more than 38,000 square feet of exhibition space, the Colby College Museum of Art has built an important collection that specializes in American and contemporary art with additional, select collections of Chinese antiquities and European paintings and works on paper. The Museum serves as a teaching resource for Colby College and is a major cultural destination for the residents of Maine and visitors to the state.
In the early 1950s, Adeline and Caroline Wing gave paintings by William Merritt Chase, Winslow Homer, and Andrew Wyeth to Colby College. In 1956, Mr. and Mrs. Ellerton M. Jetté donated their American Heritage Collection, consisting of 76 works by American folk artists. The next year, the College received the Helen Warren and Willard Howe Cummings collection of American paintings and watercolors. Two years later, in 1959, the Museum opened its first official galleries in the Bixler Art and Music Center. The Jetté Galleries, a major addition designed by E. Verner Johnson and Associates, opened in 1973. In that same year, Norma B. Marin and John Marin Jr. gave 25 works of art by John Marin. The John Marin Collection at the Colby College Museum of Art remains the largest collection of Marin's work in an academic museum in the country. In 1984, the Museum celebrated its 25th anniversary with the exhibition, Portrait of New England Places, which covered a span of nearly 200 years in American art.
In 1991, the Museum expanded again, increasing the collection storage facilities and adding the Davis Gallery designed by Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson and Abbott of Boston. In 1992, the Museum received a gift of 414 works by Alex Katz from the artist. In 1996, the Museum inaugurated the Paul J. Schupf Wing for the Works of Alex Katz to house this collection. The collection now holds over 800 works by the artist.
In 1999, with a lead gift from Peter and Paula Lunder, a new wing opened for the exhibition of Colby's growing collection of American art. The Lunder Wing, designed by architect Frederick Fisher, comprises 13 galleries and 9,000 square feet of exhibition space for the Colby Museum's growing collection.
In 2000, Richard Serra's monumental 4-5-6 was installed in the Paul J. Schupf Sculpture Court This three-part Corten steel sculpture dramatically anchors the courtyard and main entrance to the Museum. In 2002, on the Museum's east lawn, Seven Walls, a concrete structure by conceptual artist Sol LeWitt, was installed with support for its construction provided by the Jere Abbott Acquisitions Fund.
In 2004, through a partial gift of the artist and Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE), the Museum became the sole repository of the complete print oeuvre of Terry Winters. In 2006, Paul J. Schupf promised the Museum his collection of more than 150 works on paper and one sculpture by the renowned American artist Richard Serra. This gift makes the Colby Museum one of the largest repositories of Serra's works on paper.
In 2007, Peter and Paula Lunder, longtime benefactors of the Museum, promised their outstanding collection to Colby College. The gift included more than 500 works of art, the majority of them by American artists, as well as the forty exceptional examples of ritual and mortuary art that comprise the Lunder-Colville Chinese Art Collection. In 2009, the College approved the designs for the Alfond-Lunder Family Pavilion, named in recognition of a gift from the Harold Alfond Foundation and the partnership and friendship between Harold Alfond and Peter Lunder. This same year, the Museum marked its fiftieth anniversary by presenting the exhibition Art at Colby: Celebrating the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Colby College Museum of Art.
In July 2013, the Colby Museum inaugurated the Alfond-Lunder Family Pavilion. Refined and minimalist in design, the glass pavilion completes a circuit with the four existing wings of the Museum. The pavilion provides a spacious lobby that includes a sculpture gallery and terrace, as well as new exhibition galleries, classrooms, expanded collection storage, and staff offices. A three-story wall drawing by conceptual artist Sol LeWitt occupies the glass-enclosed stairwell. The pavilion's upper floor is dedicated to the College's art department, providing new studios for photography and fine art foundation classes.