History and Holdings
Founded in 1959 and now comprising four wings, more than 7,000 works, and more than 28,000 square feet of exhibition space, the Colby College Museum of Art has built a significant permanent collection that specializes in American and contemporary art. The Museum is part of the Bixler Art and Music Center, a building named in honor of President J. Seelye Bixler (1942-1960) in recognition of his visionary support for the arts at Colby.
The Museum serves both as a teaching resource for Colby College and as an active cultural institution for the residents of Maine and visitors to the state.
In the fall of 2011, the Museum broke ground on the Alfond-Lunder Family Pavilion, a 26,000-square-foot addition that will accommodate its growing permanent collection as well as its education and outreach program and art studios.
The Permanent Collection
In the early 1950s, Miss Adeline and Miss Caroline Wing gave important paintings by William Merritt Chase, Winslow Homer, and others. In 1956, Mr. and Mrs. Ellerton M. Jetté, benefactors of the College, donated their American Heritage Collection, consisting of 76 works by American folk artists. The next year, the Helen Warren and Willard Howe Cummings Collection of American paintings and watercolors was given.
In 1973, the Jetté Galleries were added to the Bixler Art and Music Center and Norma B. Marin and John Marin Jr. gave 25 works of art by John Marin. Through their continued generosity, the John Marin Collection at the Colby College Museum of Art has become the largest collection of Marin's work in an academic museum in the country. Though the majority of the museum’s works are American, excellent examples of European prints, drawings, and paintings, and special collections such as the Bernat Collection of Asian Ceramics are integral to the museum’s holdings. The collection’s growth is assured in part by the bequest of Jere Abbott, the first Associate Director of the Museum of Modern Art, who established a significant acquisition endowment, enabling the purchase of major works by artists such as Kara Walker, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Richard Serra's monumental 4-5-6, which visitors encounter as they enter through the Paul J. Schupf Courtyard.
The Paul J. Schupf Wing for the Works of Alex Katz
In 1992, the Museum received a gift of 414 works by Alex Katz from the artist, and subsequently a wing comprising roughly 8,000 square feet was constructed to house this collection. The Paul J. Schupf Wing for the Works of Alex Katz, which opened in 1996, was made possible through the generosity of Colby benefactor Paul J. Schupf, who contributed the naming gift for the building. Through rotating exhibitions it showcases a diverse collection of the artist's work across media and is one of only a handful of museum wings dedicated to the work of a living artist. The Museum now holds nearly 700 works by Alex Katz.
The Lunder Wing (Temporarily Closed)
With a lead gift from Peter and Paula Lunder, important benefactors of the College, a new wing opened for the exhibition of Colby's renowned collection of American art in 1999. The Lunder Wing was designed by architect Frederick Fisher, one of the world's leading designers of museum spaces, and comprises 13 galleries and 9,000 square feet of additional exhibition space.
In recent years acquisitions of the site-specific 4-5-6 sculpture by Richard Serra and Sol LeWitt's Seven Walls have brought greater magnitude to the Museum’s physical spaces. In 2004, through a partial gift of the artist, 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 prints and drawings by Richard Serra, making Colby one of the largest repositories of works on paper by this renowned artist. Recent gifts from the Alex Katz Foundation have also had great impact on the contemporary collection and include important works by Adolph Gottlieb, Rudy Burckhardt, Chuck Close, Jennifer Bartlett, Elizabeth Murray, and others.
The Lunder Gift
In 2007, Peter and Paula Lunder promised their collection of more than 500 works of art to the Museum. This gift constitutes one of the most important art collections ever to be donated to a liberal arts college. Significant works of 19th- and 20th-century American art, including more than 200 prints by James McNeill Whistler, make up this extraordinary gift.